This morning I wrote a post about whether or not photographs need context to be relevant. While I seem to have a combative writing style (I thinks it's just emphatic...) I wasn't trying to be particularly defensive about my photographs, only the defense of my position that they don't need captions/context. In the course of the ensuing commentary I came to grudgingly see both sides of the argument. BUT in truth I really enjoyed the process because it made me think about something I generally have always taken for granted and that is the idea that photographs exist and are consumed as stand alone objects. And that when working outside the structure of journalism that captions don't add critical weight. Now I am more carefully considering the benefits of captioning and contextual embellishment.
Some readers more or less jumped to my "defense" while others were quite objective and stood solidly in neutral ground. I enjoyed the whole exercise because we were engaged in actually talking about the art of photography instead of the gear or the business.
When you talk about gear you can go at it from two distinct viewpoints. You can talk about how the gear feels in your hands and how you react to the physicality of the design and the mentality of the user interface, or you can put the machine into the arms of other machines and derive some sort of vaguely objective measure aimed at giving you a series of numbers so that you can graph the relative attributes of the camera in question, via their number scores and come to some aggregated understanding of the camera's potential performance.
No matter which path you take you discover two things: 1. That any preference based on emotional acceptance or "feel" is so subjective that a large portion will hate the very parameters you love, and vice versa. And, 2. That no matter what you measure when you aggregate all the numerical data points some outweigh others in relative merit based on the tasks in front of the camera while other seem altogether useless to one set of users and critical to others.
Fighting and teeth gnashing always seems to ensue, the owners of the numerically triumphant cameras trumpeting their victory over the cameras of the lesser kingdoms, while the legions of "defeated" camera owners talk about the obviously overlooked faults of the victor and the even more obviously overlooked, nearly magical attributes of the maligned cameras.
As an example: For me the Nikon D3200 is a highly usable, high resolution camera at a very affordable (paradigm shifting?) price point. To fans of HDR the camera is poisonously unusable because it lacks the most critical feature: auto bracketing.
When we talk about art though it seems that we're all on more even ground. We may like or dislike a piece or a style but we can still talk about it in more interesting ways because of the art's wholesale subjective nature. There are no machines that measure the validity of a piece or the paucity of its contribution. And if we make cogent arguments they can be used to expand understanding instead of contracting understanding and dividing it (demolishing it) between two warring camps.
Now, does anyone want to take a crack at explaining to me the value (beyond the tasteful enhancement of tonal range) in obvious HDR photography?
I know a lot of photographers who meet for coffee and end up talking about gear. Wouldn't it be cool if we each brought a work or book of a photographer we liked and made our discussion over coffee about the merit of the work? More seemly, I think, to have a smackdown over Avedon versus Helmet Newton than Canon versus Nikon...