7.21.2010

Style is substance and vice versa.

Dr. John Clarke, Annie Laurie Howard Regents Professor in Fine Arts, Ph.D.   Former Chairmen of the UT Austin College of Art History.  Photographed for the University of Texas at Austin.  Two lights.  One point of view.

While one can overlay faux styles onto any project there is a richness of style conferred to an image that has its own substance, its own reason for existence.   If the image exists only to show off the skills of the creator and the effervescence of the "style of the minute" the viewer can generally sense, on some level, that the image is more like a trick or a gimmick instead of the heartfelt representation of the object photographed.

On a confluent vein,  I took my son along on a photo assignment this afternoon and on the way home we were discussing what we'd seen and done.  I was tasked with taking a portrait of a doctor on his ranch here in central Texas and then interviewing him in order to write the ad copy.  I asked the doctor, who is a second generation surgeon,  why he followed his father into the practice of medicine.  He responded that he had always wanted to be just like his father.  I know his father and it's a wonderful goal.

On the way home I asked Ben what he thought of the interview.  He said that it was interesting but that he hoped I wasn't expecting him to follow my example and become a photographer.  I assured him (with a great sense of relief on my part) that his being a photographer was not something I was pushing for.  As the conversation continued Ben asked me why I became a photographer.

I expected him to think that I loved making and sharing photographs.  Or that I loved problem solving or playing with fine pieces of equipment.  But the truth is that I'm drawn to the experiences and privileged points of view that life gives image makers in its pageant procession.  The camera is a passport into a wildly rich assortment of experiential episodes.  It gives me the license to be present and aware in a way that other professions don't.

What a glorious and charming way for an avowed fiction writer to assemble the raw materials for books and stories.  I realized this when I realized that I didn't really care if the images came out perfectly as long as the clients liked them and kept inviting me back.  And then I realized that when I stopped caring about perfection the images got better and better.  And once I gave up thinking about anything but the subject, and my reactions to the subject,  my pictures became an extension of my style and became my art.

Photography is the messy intersection of art and physics.  For it to become art it must be informed by a creator's unique point of view--about the subject.  That's the magic stuff.  Something to think about.

5 comments:

Dave Jenkins said...

This is one of the best of your many excellent pieces of writing. It states exactly what I've come to believe--the primacy of the subject.

In an article for Rangefinder magazine some years ago, I posited that the three stages of photography are involvement with equipment, involvement with photography itself, and finally, as a photographer matures in his art, involvement with the subject. http://tinyurl.com/352eq9n

Ezequiel Mesquita said...

Great post, Kirk. And excellent food for thought. The phrases "But the truth is that I'm drawn to the experiences and privileged points of view that life gives image makers in its pageant procession. The camera is a passport into a wildly rich assortment of experiential episodes." not only put light over some of the motives for my love for photography, but made me aware about the connection with my other lifelong passion and profession: flight. I think that beyond "playing with fine pieces of equipment" (and planes definitely are)and "problem solving" (lots of), the ability to get another viewpoint, another perspective of our world, is one of the leitmotifs behind my flying lust. Thanks for helping me in finding the confluence of two loves!

Curt Schimmels said...

"Photography is the messy intersection of art and physics." A long time ago, I was conversing with a friend about photography and how it is a confluence for me of both left-brain and right-brain. On the one hand, physics and Cosmos are necessary to understand the vehicle - how to make the adjustments of the equipment, et cetera. On the other, the vision, the creation, and the inspiration are all art and Chaos. I feel fortunate to be able to participate in something that uses the whole of my brain!

Scott Harris said...

Kirk,
I really appreciate the way you make me think about photography. So many sites emphasize technical knowledge and the lastest photo fad, with no thought as to why. Thanks.

john said...

"And then I realized that when I stopped caring about perfection the images got better and better."
There are so many technically perfect photographs out there for all to see, that have no soul. It has been said many times, many of the memorable photos are grainy, tilted, or somewhat out of focus. But the subject stands out clear and bright in spite of the imperfections. When you came to that realization you took the proverbial pebble from the masters hand.
Ah Grasshopper, time for you to leave...