Why are we afraid to make beautiful photographs?
I understand that it's fun to see just how minimal you can get with your gear and still pull out a recognizable image. Recently the combination of iPhones and Instagram has given rise (once again) to the aesthetic of the "distressed" image. It's like re-strip mining, in a sense, since Polaroid transfers already pulled up the richest lodes of the distressed movement years ago, before people got tired of squinting at the images to see what the hell they were really all about. Before that it was Polaroid SX-70 film that was reworked during its development with the business end of chop sticks, tooth picks and other implements of art. In the 1980's we all lived through "cross processing." It was a groovy way of fucking up your film to get a different look. Back then you did it through chemistry but now you can do the same amount of damage/inspiration? with the click of a button. And, of course, there are Lomos and Holgas, and before them the seminal Dianas. Plastic cameras that help you innovate by producing "distressed" pictorial results.
I think every generation goes through this kind of experimentation and then, realizing that it is as much of a dodge as any other technique practiced for the benefit of the technique instead of the subject, the real artists drop the schtick and the glitter and go on to create really original art or they move on to another hobby. Perhaps "action painting" or bead craft.
We seem to have hit a point in photography where it's not enough to just interpret beauty. If we photograph a woman we feel we must "enhance" her by smoothing her skin and using "liquify" filters to "thin her out." We seem immune to the charms of beauty that is too obvious and even an inch outside mainstream constructs. Same basic idea with men. We've hit a pothole in the road of photography and now were stuck in the low gear of insisting that all photos of men be rim-lighted and have the "clarity" sliders maxed out. Craggy skin tones and over the top lighting. For every male over 21.
If you like doing all the distressed stuff don't let me stop you. I'm not always right. You could be right. Instagram could be the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci made whole for the masses. But if you get a queasy feeling looking at one more "enhanced" portrait or one more Instagrammed snap shot. If you start feeling vertigo at the non-stop progression of overdone HDR landscapes and city scenes you might want to join with me and ask: "What's so bad about the reality of beauty?"
I think the appreciation of art follows the pattern of the pendulum. A gifted artist tries a technique. The technique is antithetical to the prevailing ethos. The technique finds popular and critical approval. There's mass migration toward the technique and the new practitioners lack the original, driving idea that acts like a motor to power the technique. Lots of derivative work is generated. The technique reaches maximum cultural saturation and like fashion it goes out. Old style. Last year's stuff.
If the race, for the last five or six years, has been toward the grunge-ing of images and the instagramming of images for maximum nostalgic distressed effect then it seems logical that we're on our way back to the opposite side of the pendulum where beauty is consumed raw and quality is a technique that society is happy, once again, to explore. Are we on the cusp of learning how to shoot well? Again.
How to use a tripod to gain clarity? How to use our cameras to convey the richest manifestation of beauty instead of looking at beauty through layer after layer of dissembling electronic filtration?
Count me in. I want to be part of the new trend. I want to aim higher than a lame display on an iPhone or a quick hit on Twit. How about you?