When Does It Stop Being a Photograph? Part 3

This will be short.

I think the answer to the question, “When does it stop being a photograph?” is offered at the very creation of the image itself.

If I never intended the image I captured on film or sensor to be a verisimilitude of objective reality I observed, and if I intended from the very beginning to make it into something much more subjective and personal, then it really was never just a photograph. Only rarely are we satisfied with cold hard chemical or electrical reactions to light. We almost always insert our feelings into it. We are all disappointed when the photograph does not convey the emotion we felt.

So when Ansel Adams had his epiphany, and attached a red filter to the lens of his view camera, and created the negative of “Monolith: The Face of Half Dome,” he established for all time that photography truly is art at its very core. Mic drop.

I believe now that almost every photograph I ever made was more than just a record. I mostly wanted to show people what I thought about or felt about something, or how I related to it. I wanted to present “my point of view.”

Even if you take photographs by proxy, as the agent of a parent, maybe as a youth sports photographer or wedding photographer, there is an adult and a child somewhere, or a mother of the bride and the newlyweds who want you to capture the essence of their day. They expect you to see. I expect me to see also.

I’ve taken inventory and tax record photographs. Dull work. But when I take a photograph of my family, for example, then is never merely a cold, impartial record. I cannot take a photo of my granddaughter without it being personal. Even when I photograph real estate for sale, I still put myself into the art. I observe light and shadow, warmth and coolness, crispness and clarity, or a misty dream. I want romance in the staircase.

Today I am faced with over 25,000 images. I have arrived, within a few steps of my destination, and I have reached what I believe is every photographer’s realization, maybe lament: I have an irresolvable accounting problem; I have more photographs than memories.

Here’s a photography joke that I think illustrates the point. A photographer is walking down the sidewalk with his new baby in a stroller. (This is at a time when people were more social and lived more openly, less anonymously.) Two senior women (we used to say “elderly”), grandmotherly types approach him and ask to see his new child. They, of course are filled with awe and admiration. “So beautiful,” says one. “Just lovely,” says the other. To which the photographer replies, “That ain’t nothing, you should see the photographs!”

So I think my advice is photograph with all your heart, and try to convey how you feel and relate to the subject. I caution, don’t exchange subjective representations for the subject itself, especially when the subject is not a thing, but a person.

~ by Bill on December 19, 2019.

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