Camera Work: Growing As An Art Form
Fifteen years into the 21st Century and we are seeing the effects of the digital technology take hold at the curatorial level such as at The International Center of Photography, which ran an exhibit: “What is a Photograph?”
I read the NYC article and thought it a fitting subject for the first thread here in 2015.
Growing As An Art Form. Photography has had a kind of second cousin relationship to the other visual arts (sometimes distant cousin!). There is no direct intervention by hand in the production. It’s almost entirely mechanical, with whatever intervention we do is an adjunct to the direct tracing of the subject by the lens.
The Etymology of the word “Photography” is based on two words; Greek (phos) meaning light and (graphe) meaning drawing, when taken together means Light Drawing, or the graphics of light.
Imagine this “light drawing”. How might we accomplish it? Within this definition, notice no mention is made of how this drawing obtains, that is, lens is not part of the definition. However, as we use the word photograph, it is necessary.
Before photography, the predecessor of the lens was known for many years by the phenomenon of images projected on a wall in a darkened environment (like a tent) due to a tiny pinhole in the fabric of the opposite wall acting as a primitive lens (called a pinhole lens) Once optical lenses were invented, this phenomenon could be readily generated, but unfortunately, could not be saved. No recording medium. In this form it is referred to as “Camera Obscura“, Latin for “dark chamber”
Shorten “camera obscura” to simply “camera”, add the recording media and voila! We are capable of making and saving examples of light drawings, in the accepted sense, since the 1830’s or so.
Fast forward to 2015. Digital revolution 101 is complete and now we can generate any sort of image digitally with or without a camera. The lens is no longer unique. We can if we wish, do away with brushes, palette knives, pencils, pens; all the other tools traditionally used for generating images. We can do it on the computer. The fact of the matter is that we can now produce any kind image on a sheet of paper, as does watercolor, pencil or pen and ink. Is this an expansion on photography, or is digital another form of work on paper?
My definition of a photograph includes the following characteristics
- The image possesses a wide, unbroken tonal scale generated by the continuous variation in light intensities.
- The image possesses a wealth of detail down to the tiniest element
- The image is generated as a complete projection of a moment in time.
Using this as a guide, we can separate a photograph from other images that are generated using the technology required to make a photograph, available to generate images that do not possess these characteristics.
Finally, combining several elements of image making into a single image is not new. Referred to as mixed media, it has practitioners from many disciplines in image making. We are not bereft of cross-pollinating art forms! Certainly, combining elements like magazine images with torn paper forms squares of colored paper, skillfully arranged on the bed of a scanner, manipulated in a photo editor and presented as a print isn’t photography, nor does it need to be such. The artist might just as well mounted the parts on a matte board, framed it and exhibited it as original art. No one would ever confuse that with a photograph.
It remains to be seen how this shakes out in the years to come.
I’ve not included an image this time as I couldn’t come up with an appropriate one. However, I have a link to an experimental gallery on the website. It’s locked so you have to enter the P/W: fdl001. They are my last photo of 2014 and first of 2015. It’s experimental in that I’m not sure of general visibility at this time. I’ll delete the P/W in about a week or so.