Photos here, photos there, photos photos more widespread than the biosphere…
I’ve heard much said about photos, and I’ve seen photos for which too much has been said. But speaking as a photographer and artist, the best part of photography is getting to the shot. This I believe.
In art, as in other areas of life and work, there’s a tendency to rate things. A Hierarchy of Genre once described the relative importance of the subject matter of a painting, so that a scene from the Bible was better than a scene about messy faced children in the midst of a pie eating contest. Similarly, a stone Pieta would be better art than a fanciful gargoyle, without regard for the skill of the respective carvers. Photography faces this kind of comparison too because some people don’t like the notion that a camera merely captures a scene mechanically, and that a photographer need only point and shoot what exists for anyone to see. Photos aren’t handmade in the way of a painting or sculpture, and photographers are limited and less involved than a maker who creates something from nothing. The different points and authorities of these discussions can be stimulating, but they can also miss the simple beauty of the art itself, and certainly do miss the affection attached to the thing created. For art is basically a form of communication. At times high minded, mesmerizing, puzzling, precise, and brilliant, among other admirable possibilities, but communication nonetheless.
Photography is one of those creative acts that almost all people of any means undertake. Cameras for professionals and hobbyists, cameras for our shirt pocket, cameras in our cell phones. For an adventurer, a photo is a record of his journey foremost, and a work of art after that. I shoot photos of my travels with an artistic eye, but that’s only because I want people to view them longer and with more care and astonishment. What I truly want people to see is my pleasure being there and my effort to express the wonder I found.
The greatest photo during my life was taken by an amateur through a tiny window in a cramped spacecraft. It’s the photo called “Earthrise” by Apollo astronauts as they orbited the Moon for the first time. I’m sure the photo could have been more perfect technically… better cloud patterns, better color, better something. But nothing more was needed to capture the awe of humankind’s achievement getting to the shot, or the wondrous and novel view of Earth in all its relative glory to the rest of the universe. Land, sea, and sky from a vantage point that was the result of almost incomprehensible enterprise and skill. Yes, Alfred Stieglitz may squirm in his grave at this thought, but the beauty and splendor in a photo can be many folds greater than the art sense of the person who shot it.
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