My thoughts on Photography in 1986
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
I have written these thoughts as one of the assignments while I was doing my BA in Photography at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham, England, back in 1986. some of it appears dated, especially as the Internet did not yet exist, let alone Facebook, Instagram etc. But I think some of the insights are still relevant, so I have left the original, perhaps naive, text as it was then.
The practice of photography is common knowledge in the industrial countries. It would be safe to state that the vast majority of people in those countries have some first-hand experience of photography at one level or another. A smaller group dedicate their lives to the exploration of its form and to the expression of ideas through its faculty. The latter are the professionals, who more often than not, look down with contempt mixed with horror at the work of the amateur photographers and the snappers.
As a result of the spread of photography, the criteria for quality, as achieved by intention and not mere chance, are hard to set.
Anyone who has held a camera in their hands feel the right to criticize the work of those who dedicate their lives to the art.
Upon seeing an effective picture, many would exclaim: " Ha! Nothing to it! I could have done it and better if I put my mind to it!"
There is something in such an arrogant statement which reeks of the truth, unfortunately. All the same, I've already learnt that there is more to photography than simply being "there" at the right time.
The problem remains though that you can only really appreciate photography for what it SHOULD be, once you're part of the game.
So are photographers doomed to be only appreciated by their colleagues? The public might enjoy and understand their work but never to the extent that it was meant. Isn't that true of all creative forms of expression?
Having begun on a negative note, I hasten to move on to an area which fills me with great hope. Television as the liberator of photography. It seems as if television is substituting Photography as the major visual news-carrier of the world. It leaves photography in a rather attractive position from which it should be able to make a decision of detaching itself from the duty of reporting to the world on itself. It can now enter the fine-art realm.
It's journalistic responsibility almost empty of unique meaning, it can set itself to investigate the world as it potentially is without the cloaks of human appearance. It will be still reporting, no doubt, but from a less self-opinionated and egoistical position.
Photography should strive to attain a similar relationship to television as poetry does to other, non-poetry literature.
I see photography as a key to the creation of a collective memory.
Gathered together, surely the photographs taken over anybody's life creates a tremendous record, superficial, glancing and misleading as it may be. I believe that if more such records were in existence and were accepted for what they are (not unlike the many autobiographies that are being written and published all the time), photography would be able to assist itself in devising its own language, something which might answer some of the questions I've raised earlier.
I am aware of the fact that there are people working towards this goal.
So far I've discussed what photography should or could be. What is it now? The first images that spring into mind are of advertisement and mass-consumption. The usage of photography in those fields, and others such as education, should alert us as to the danger of developing it more than to its artistic demands. It's a powerful medium, and alongside with constructing its language, maybe some binding principles concerning its usage should be laid down.
I still respect and appreciate the role of photography as a news-carrier, as an explorer. But I must bear in mind that in reporting, it inevitably distorts and takes out of context those images it set out to communicate as wholesome. I wish that would be made common knowledge, so that people would stop relying so heavily upon the media for its knowledge of the world.
One of the things I intend to explore is the interpretation of 'poetic truths', i.e all those intuitive feelings we have towards the world and its inhabitants and which we find difficult to articulate through language. I'm not sure how to go about this, especially because of the problems I've raised in the beginning.
Occasionally, usually when I'm not doing very well, I still tend to see the photographer as an unaccomplished painter who is using easy ways of expressing him/herself through a relatively easy to control medium. In this light, photography is certainly a sign of our times, where everything has to be accomplished quickly and with a gloss finish. If you take the view that everything that is, is here to serve a purpose, then photography might be here because we've lost the ability to observe, contemplate and comment on the world through natural and organic methods. In the same way, television is here because we've lost the art of conversation.
All these are sweeping generalization that hold a grain of the truth in them all the same.
Being a product of our times, I've chosen photography as one of the means of expressing my uneasiness within the world.