DON’T Look at this Photograph

Look right on through it. Because that is Photography. I show you a photograph of a person

You see a person. And a stove. And a plate with Omelette on it. You do not see a photograph so much as a situation that is eternally captured (or at least as long as the picture exists.)

This sets photography apart from other artforms and media. With Art, one witnesses an actual scene, insofar as our minds reflexively tell. If I throw you a painting of a person.

you first engage the art, then the subject. We look at the Mona Lisa and we see PAINTING. The reaction is altogether different than it is with photography. Upon our recognition of the painting being a representation of something real, we engage with it twofold: first as a representation, then as reality. We know that there is a person present at the time of painting, but the overriding premonition is that this photograph is certainly biased. Why is she smiling? Why are the tones darker than a normal painting? Why is the background slightly unbalanced? Famous questions as to the artist’s intent — despite the fact that this portrait is nothing more than a representation of a person sitting in a chair with a scene behind her — are rampant in our society.

With a photograph, Roland Barthes points out in Camera Lucida, there is something far more concrete and absolute in the way we engage with the subject. Our inital reaction is that this photo contains a person. Not a representation of a person, although that is in fact the case, but a living, breathing person who has simply been captured at a certain point in time.

It makes sense when you think of it in terms of poor photographs. How often is it that a person who “isn’t photogenic” complains about the picture not being good? Erase it! they scream with vigour, because for another person to see them with bad hair or slightly chubby cheeks would be horrible. Why? Because we assume that other people will think that that photograph is really us, and for that person that particular photograph suggests that they are ugly. Forget the fact that the photographer and all the people who are liable to see the picture are most likely people who know the unphotogenic individual, and know that the person is in fact quite attractive. That picture is reality, and as it stands that reality must be destroyed for fear of people seeing it.

There is, of course, an automatic denial that surfaces in our minds when we read the words I have just layed down. “I know that the photograph is not imperical”, we tell ourselves, “I know that the photograph is as much a representation as a painting.” That was my immediate reaction, as well. But the truth is, when I look at a photograph, I still do not interpret it as a medium through which we see the subject. Rather, I see the subject apart from the medium. It is the nature of the Photograph to disappear in this manner. The Photograph is the sneakiest of media, the escape artist of the family of Arts.

“I am not a photograph”, a Photograph screams. “I am you.”


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. blackberry guy
    Mar 24, 2007 @ 19:52:00

    Good post. It’s still somewhat controversial as to whether a photograph can even be art, because it merely captures reality. But I think most people now concede that it can be.

    I gather that the magnificent landscapes of Ansel Adams were a significant turning point in that debate.


  2. Bill
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 14:00:00

    Blackberry guy your comment that “It’s still somewhat controversial as to whether a photograph can even be art, because it merely captures reality.” Has been debated over the years but the general art community today would disagree with the notion that photography isn’t art. The idea that photography is not art is generally an area debated on the internet more than amongst artists. The number of permanent art galleries set up strictly for photography the fact that most art galleries have a section devoted to photography and that there are now more artists that work in the photographic medium over paint makes this more than evident. New York Times Critic Linda Grace-Kobas states “For people who believe that money settles all disputes in fin de siècle America, the question of whether photography is art was answered in 1993. That year, Sotheby’s auctioned off a Man Ray photograph for $194,000 and Christie’s sold an Alfred Steiglitz photo of Georgia O’Keefe’s hands, with thimbles, for $398,000.” If you however want to argue the purist line that art found, is not art, then yes you may have a point. That said, Though I Love Ansel Adams work he is not as much as an art photographer as peerless technician, he even said as much.

    If you want to look at photography as art you may want to look at Freeman Patersons work. His writings point out that the photographic art is the ability to see what is not most evident, and to capture the art that is hidden within the image. This is the art of photography. A copy of his book the “Art of Seeing” has many images that without an artistic vision you would never capture.

    Also the works of Man Ray show how a true artist can use the photographic medium. Man Ray was a significant contributor to both the Dada and Surrealist movements, but chose photography as one medium of expression.

    Today’s Photoshop savvy photographers do more manipulation than simply capturing of the image. A good photo artist will take more time changing the image than taking it so if photography was not art in its inception it certainly is art now.


  3. Bill
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 14:07:00

    ps..Knotwurth Mentioning

    Great Blog – Do you mind if I link it to “the Art of the Rant” alongside your dads blog?

    Oh and are there any more of your family that have blogs of note?


  4. Knotwurth Mentioning
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 14:36:00


    I think the issue of Photoshop certainly is worth discussion because it really truly brings photography into the realm of art without debate. I would go so far as to argue that it is an art in and of itself! Photoshop requires a skillset completely outside of any photographic skill or computer skills (well, aside from any basics such as the ability to run Windows.)It requires vision, area-specific savvy, and some level of emotional attachment to the process, like any other field of art. I think that some of the examples given on Dad’s posts on photography give some great examples of that distinct talent required to be a good Photoshop artist! I know I never would have thought of a stained glass pond!

    I tend to be of the line of thinking that photography that in some way tries to alter either the object portrayed itself, or alters the perspective from which we look at that object, is art. Everyday photography does neither, which is why I argue that it is something unlike any media or art we have encountered.

    And as for listing my blog, that would be much appreciated! You’re the first person to comment on any of my stuff aside from Dad, so it would be nice to have an opportunity at a few people stumbling across it! As for other bloggers, not yet… Lydia isn’t into writing or even reading, which seems very anti-Peltz. Give Beth time, and I suspect she will get into it, though. Isaac has one, but it’s him being silly most of the time and I don’t think he’s updated it since day 1, hehehe. Reminds me of how I used to blog!


  5. Bill
    Mar 29, 2007 @ 17:19:00

    Aside from Photoshop as art, the art of seeing is another element try googling freeman paterson or getting his book I think you will like it.


  6. Bill
    Mar 30, 2007 @ 06:10:00

    Ps. you are now linked to “the Art of The Rant”


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