revisiting a post about style and substance. It's becoming clearer every day.

DEAR READER,  SOMETIMES I RE-read a blog and find something new I like about it.  When I do I post it for the people who weren't here a few months ago.  If you already read this back in July you are welcome to skip it.......Kirk


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.


Anonymous said...

Damn in the RSS that CAPITALIZED text is WAY bigger.... it's like "Ok I get the point"

Markus B. said...

Great post, Kirk. Like Anna Quindlen said: “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

Dave Jenkins said...

This reminds me very much of something I wrote in an article titled "The Three Stages of Photography," which appeared in Rangefinder Magazine in December, 1999:

"To learn the true meaning of photography, to come to a place where we can make photographs which are truly our own, we must advance to the third level: involvement with the subject.

The things we’ve learned about equipment and the photographic process in earlier stages are not forgotten or set aside; they are relegated to their proper roles as means to an end. And that end is the presentation, the revelation of the subject.

Dorothea Lange kept a quotation by the English essayist Francis Bacon on her darkroom door: “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.”

Contrary to what you’ve probably been taught, photography is not an art of self-expression.
Photography is above all others the art of self-effacement. Photography reaches its highest plane when the photographer has so mastered its tools and processes that he is able to use them to take himself out of the way and allow the subject to speak, to reveal itself through his skill. Paradoxically, it is only then that the photographer fully and truly expresses himself."

Kirk, if it's okay with you, I'll post a link for anyone who cares to read the whole article. Please remove the link if you prefer not to run it. http://tinyurl.com/24k6oxt

jonno said...

I am glad you re-posted. I re-read. I had already clipped the last paragraph. Now I have clipped the first. For me, this is one of the most insightful comments on photography I have ever read. Consider a third re-post later?