Some Thoughts On Photography

There may be much to say about photography but there is little of interest to be said about photographers. Photography is mostly a subconscious activity, an activity that demands attention and not reflection, awareness and not thought. As Cartier Bresson said: “Be there, don’t think, forget yourself”. Most of the photographers’ job is to see, to forget and to be forgotten. In that sense it is almost like a kind of meditation, with one important difference: where traditionally meditation has turned its attention away from the world photography embraces that world and makes it the subject of the meditation.

After more than a hundred years of photography our relationship to it is more intimate yet even more strenuous than ever. Most of the reason for that is because we want photography to be things it is not. Some people want photography to be purely about describing reality others see it as an artistic medium where basically anything goes. Photography crosses boundaries as if they don’t really exist; it not only resists our definitions but questions our dichotomies: Real/Fake, True/Untrue, Fact/Fiction, Objective/Subjective, Art/Document.

Photography can perhaps be described as the tentative discovery of a language of whom no one knows the grammar and only few even know any vocabulary, yet it is a language that speaks to everyone. It is a language of contrasts, of shapes, of framing and composition, of sharpness and blurs. It is a language expressed in transformations of light. It is a language eminently suited for the subconscious to express itself, and therefore it is also a language of discovery.

I have not seen photography been usefully described in terms outside of its own vocabulary. Like its successful products it is an “itself”, something autonomous that may interact in many ways but always retains its own idiosyncratic and elusive character. A photo is not a representation of reality. It is not even a representation of a perception of reality. It is a perceptual object in its own right. The eye does not see reality, the camera does not capture perception, or, as Gary Winogrand has expressed it: “I make photos to see what the world looks like photographed”.

Journal Comments

  • laurette
  • Pepijn Sauer
  • Nikolay Semyonov