JUST WHAT IS A PHOTOGRAPHER ANYWAY?
Thoughts on the nature of photographers and what they do, and how technology affects our perception of photography as a form.
I think that despite (or perhaps because of) the ubiquity of photography in our time (via smartphones and cheaper tech), the wider world tends to view stills photographers as an almost forgotten breed. If they do recognise them at all it’s often with the refrain: “oh do you shoot weddings?” – maybe because this is still seen as a specialism and one that they will, in all likelihood, have witnessed being practised. I also think cheaper, capable cameras bring with them the idea that photography is easy, and therefore no longer a skilled activity. Consequently, other types of professional photographer are not so readily recognised, remaining ‘invisible’ (e.g. it’s easy for people to forget that an advert or article in a magazine they are reading has probably got a professional photographer behind it). I believe this an extension of the fact that photography as something to view and linger with, has become devalued by its very democratic success.
It also seems that photographers from other eras are more readily recognised than contemporary ones, usually in the form of retrospectives, or else those with some kind of ‘glamour’ or celebrity status attached (Terry Richardson comes to mind, though his notoriety has been a result of nefarious reasons).
Is That A Camera In Your Pocket (Or Are You Just Pleased To See Me)?
It’s been interesting to consider the furore that seems to arise when photographers embrace some new technologies: for example, photojournalist Damon Winter’s (albeit limited) use of Hipstamatic as an editing tool on his iPhone whilst shooting stories in Afghanistan: http://tinyurl.com/yy8oq8ty – where the commentators seemed more exercised by the use of the technology than the content or story within the images. I wonder if photography can be taken just a little too seriously in certain corners of the art crit world? Not that Winter’s use of the app Hipstamatic actually represented anything other than honest photojournalism.
Photography is an exercise of differing motivations and depths depending on each practitioner, but one that I believe, at its source, stems from the ability to play with reality in some way – after all even the most honest photo-journalist is making a decision of what to frame and what to exclude at a given moment.
These filter apps married with their extensive use on social media platforms have created an approach and aesthetic that often makes other forms of photography ‘difficult’ for people to read or willing to engage with. Their influence is not easy to ignore, and there is always the temptation to bring their aesthetic to anyone’s social media timeline.
How Have I Responded To Technology?
The technologies offered within the photographic fields are tools of creation, play, and expression. They always have been. Especially where they are marketed to wider non-professional audiences. The smartphone and its embrace of camera technology is simply another development of that historic practice. Indeed, I believe that photographers can find different forms of freedom there that they don’t necessarily find when utilising their ‘professional’ tools of the trade. I’ve often played with manipulating images shot on my either phone or a camera and edited using different apps. The two images at the top of this post are deliberate examples of this. I often liken this to a form of sketching or making visual notes: purely there to explore and see what might come of that exploration. From time-to-time, I might take an idea further but in the main these images remain private or just posted online for fun. Occasionally one image will stand out and become part of my wider public material. However, these are rarely photo-journalistic representations of an event and in that field of practice the smartphone makes the subversion of truth more tempting. Though, on the flip side, without the ability to share images and footage captured on these devices and shared immediately, we wouldn’t have seen the rise of ‘citizen’ journalism and its impact on, for example, the Black Lives Matter campaign.
All manner of software technologies are available to the practitioner (professional or otherwise). Almost ninety percent of my photographic output (commercial or otherwise) has some form of subtle technological manipulation going on. For example, I regularly use software called Exposure by Alien Skin, which presents faithful digital reproductions of many analogue film stocks from Kodak, Fuji etc. You might not notice them as I tend to steer towards subtlety, but they are there nonetheless. The image below is an example of this. This helps me realise a certain look to my images, especially for commercial and client-based work.
SCRAPBOOK AND PROJECT CONSIDERATIONS
I’ve made no practice-led steps to project work this week, though I have been extensively thinking and working on what resonates with me at the moment. Especially where it comes to what I might wish to ‘mirror’ (see Week 1) in my project moving forward. I’m always like a magpie at this stage of project thinking: flirting around between all the bright shiny things that might entice me.
At present I know there is something about identity lingering around my brain/heart. Some connectivity with being of dual heritage, and historical events and colloquial stories that have been related to me via family members. Some passage of myself towards getting dual citizenship which might well happen as a result of Brexit? Some Caravaggio influence (see Week 2)? To note that projects already started in the past that I consider unfinished aren’t sparking interest in me at the moment.
Not sure. In any case, I’m often seeking to find the opening ‘form’ of a project before I can start to make work and I haven’t found that form in my mind’s eye yet. It might well be that I need to start shooting something in order to find the originating seed that marries some of the ideas floating around inside me.
Some technical forms that are still triggering ideas: stereograms, camera obscura, night-time photography, large-format.