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Seeing • Posted: Jul 04, 2011 09:51:58Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Several recent conversations prompt these thoughts. Photography can be many things. But given that the word "photography" means light writing or writing with light, and since the medium by which we see is light, one can hardly doubt that photography is about seeing. The experience the viewer has is visual, the experience the photographer has is largely visual. Plus, the processes employed to make a photograph start and end with light and largely mimic the natural processes of the human eye. A camera has a lens to focus light, the eye has a lens to focus light. The camera has an iris to modulate the amount of light reaching the film or sensor, the eye has an iris to modulate the amount of light reaching the retina. Cells on the retina detect light and dark in three primary colors, both film and digital sensors detect light and dark in three primary colors. Etc., etc.

Since photography's early days, there have been those who would take the processes of photography in hand and attempt to modulate their output, largely to "see what happens". Many would class those individuals as "artists". I would prefer to call their brand of photography "synthetic". Not to be confused with "fake", but in the sense of being made from scratch, conjured into existence, imagined.

Also from early days, there have been a second group of folks who have employed the processes of photography as an aid to seeing. Their concerns have been to faithfully render and preserve. I would label that camp "analytic".

The age old question of whether photography is art stems, I think, from a great deal of confusion and lack of appreciation for what actually goes into the disciplines that have been adopted by both camps. Similar debates have occurred trying to understand abstract painting as opposed to representational painting, and realism as opposed to romanticism. In the end, artistry of any type involves an integrated mixture of insightful vision and compelling craft. Something worthy of our attention must be both envisioned and convincingly presented for the work to have meaningful consequence, to be lauded as art.

The works I present on this forum, with but three exceptions, have been of the analytic type. Some would call what I do photojournalism, others documentary, still others snapshots. Those who would use the term "snapshot" fail, I suspect, to appreciate not only the vision but the craft involved in what I present. But at the same time, in each of those cases, I accept that I have failed to not only engage interest but to make meaningful connection for them to the issues that have motivated me.

Nobody enjoys failure, nor desires it. But failure is unavoidable when probing things that are not obvious nor fully appreciated. I continue to regard trying to understand and trying to create understanding as goals worth pursuing. I also have little doubt that, in the long run, the analytic mode of photography is the most appropriate to my purposes.

Truth speaks. Reality speaks. Clarity of vision is the only impediment. May what you see edge ever closer to a more deeply intricate and insightful understanding of what is actually there before you.

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010