All art starts within the mind of the artist — it starts with a concept. That is to say, an artist decides on what it is they would like to express with their art. And then in most traditional arts, such as music, writing, theater, painting, or sculpture, the hand of that artist gets busy, shaping and molding their abstract idea into a final product to be introduced to the outside world.
Reality is gently introduced into the process, and becomes more apparent at each step. From simple raw materials, a complex product emerges. The work of art starts as an abstract idea, and becomes most tangible at the end of the creative process.
Photography is a strange art though. It remains true that the photographer’s concept is still conceived in the artist’s mind, but then the process sharply diverges from the other arts. Reality is not gradually and subtly introduced. Rather, full blown reality pounces as soon as the search for the subject begins. The photographic process becomes immediately rooted in our messy, confounding, wonderful world. Our shared world — the one that follows natural laws. The world of infinite detail, light and shadow, solid earth, and hazy air.
The subject of the art starts as real as it gets. But then the photographer begins the difficult process of transforming that reality — that subject — into a more abstract image. First the camera is utilized to frame, compose, and possibly simplify reality into a two dimensional image. And after exposure additional processing is done. From raw materials of flesh and bone, wood, water, air and rocks, the photographer creates a simple piece of multi-toned paper. Contrary to most arts, the final product becomes LESS tangible at the end of the creative process.
This begs the question though, How can you stay true in such an art? How can you work in an art that accepts as a basic precept that you will at best merely distort the very subject that exists so clearly in front of the artist? Why bother?
When I began working on this post, I thought it would be a short and simple piece on one unique aspect of photographic art. I never suspected that it would grow into a larger piece which touched upon many of the basic tenets that I feel are essential to the art itself. And so more posts will follow…