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Photography – A Definition

I’m a Photographer

To me photography is a kind of alchemy: a marrying of technology and magic. And, while not quite as accurate a translation, it might be more appropriate to substitute the word magic for mystery or spiritualism. Certainly the greatest pictures combine excellent technique, great timing and the descriptive (albeit transitory) nature of light.

Following on from a conversation I had with my friend, Peter, on New Years Eve it might be worthwhile exploring how we describe ourselves and, as a consequence, our relationship with photography. When we say “I’m a photographer”, want do we mean?

Do we take pictures, or do we make pictures?

Do we have control of the camera or does it control us and, as a consequence, the resulting image?

Are we concerned with creating a pleasing likeness of our subject, or an image that captures a sense of the essence of that subject?

Think about a sunset. Why would anyone want to photograph a sunset? Surely the act of setting up the camera and tripod, sweating over composition and exposure issues, and looking for the ‘decisive moment’, when all aspects of the image come together in a unified and cohesive manner, can only interfere with the experience of actually being there and beholding the event. Don’t all the decisions and stress associated with the very act of photography take you out of the moment? For most folks I’m sure the answer is yes! And anyway how can a two dimensional image on a computer monitor or print hope to compare with the awesome splendor of the three dimensional natural world? It can’t. That is to say, not if you’re trying to record reality.

It is true that photographers must deal with reality. Yet, while it is what we see with our eyes and attempt to rationalize with our mind, it is not, necessarily, what we perceive with our heart and soul. In addition to the 2D rendering of the original 3D reality, great photographs, like all great art, seem to include something of the artist’s actual humanity together with their own, individual way of perceiving the scene before them. So, while it could be said that a great photograph was made in 1/125 second, it’s probably more accurate to say that that same photograph was made in 1/125 second, (e.g.) 46 years of life experience, a considerable investment in education and equipment, and a multitude of mistakes along the way. You could say that why a photograph may not sum up a photographer’s life, it may, nevertheless, be the sum of that same life. All the more reason to try one’s best whenever we make a picture.

With that said, no two photographs of a sunset can be the same. We all make decisions based on exposure, composition, lens choice, angle of view, etc, dependent on how each of us perceive the scene. There is something that instinctively draws us towards the scene. It comes to us before thinking, before any type of formula or thought of ‘capturing’ it comes into play. So, why each photograph combines something of the photographer with that of the scene or subject depicted, great photographs seem to illicit in the viewer a connection with a greater reality.

So, what separates a snapshot from a work of art? It is not just what you see that is important, it is how you perceive what you see and how you feel about that that defines an artist from a hobbyist. The photograph is as much about you, as an individual, spiritual being and about the connection all great art forms with the world beyond our normal, everyday reality that is important. And it is this fact that makes the act of photographing an awe inspiring sunset worthwhile.

Essence of a Sunset

Essence of a Sunset


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