This is the third post of the series, “The Strange Art of Photography”.
A photograph’s magic lies in the idea that our tangible and often mundane world can reveal other truths. As I discussed in my last post, expressive photographers may use their photographs to emphasize, suggest or present subjective qualities they have discovered in the subject or themselves. An expressive photograph isn’t simply an exposure of the subject in front of the camera — it is primarily an exposure of the artist’s ideas.
To sneak those subjective qualities into a photograph of the objective world, the photographer has a difficult task. The difficulty is not found in manipulating the image. Cameras, lenses, film, and pixels are relatively easy to manipulate, especially in today’s digital world. Simple manipulation isn’t the key anyway. No, the difficulty lies in finding an appropriate concept — a concept that squeezes subjective ideas into an image full of objective, “real” objects.
In photography, though, it is not enough to reveal the artist’s concept. All arts do that. What makes photography unique is that it is rooted in the outside world. It must hang the artist’s ideas on the framework of our common reality, without totally diminishing the importance of that reality. Otherwise, the art evolves from photography into other visual arts. Art that is missing a strong “hook” on reality may be absolutely valid, but it isn’t photography.
When properly executed, though, the artistic photograph is extremely powerful. Seeing becomes believing. When the photograph is clearly based in our common world, the abstract ideas of the photographer appear to be PART OF the world around us and NOT ADDED to the image.
Like a member of a magician’s audience, the viewer doesn’t really want to know the truth. It’s the experience that matters to them. And THAT is the magic of the Art.