On Photography

On photography:

A photograph isn’t necessarily what you see. If you know what you’re doing a photograph is what you want to see. Unlike other art forms which are a manipulation by the artist of reality, photography captures, albeit fleetingly, the actual light that reality reflects off its surface. If that’s all photography can do, then it is not an art form, but a documentary record of reality. Many purists think that’s exactly what photography should do: present a record of reality in the most aesthetically pleasing manner, but without tampering with the product. Cartier Bresson, for example, didn’t even crop his pictures – nor did he allow anyone else to do so. The published image had to be exactly what he saw in his rangefinder at the split second he pressed the shutter. Why? Because he was trying to capture, as he put it, “the decisive moment”. The moment when light, composition and action come together perfectly. I very much admire Cartier Bresson as a photo-journalist because he was trying to document a place and a time in an objective way. However, I also admire him as an artist because in a way, he was tampering with his photos – before he took them! He would anticipate what was going to happen, put himself in the right place and wait until what he was waiting to happen did happen. That’s what made him an artist. Cartier Bresson gave subsequent generations a faithful rendition of social and historical events which have been used and will continue to be used by historians as sources of evidence. By anticipating the image he was able to say, “this is the way it really was” and at the same time he was an artist because he composed the image aesthetically. However, not all photography has to say, “this is the way it really was”. We can’t all be Cartier Bressons. I can’t see why, so long as they are up-front about it, photographers can’t tamper with the image any way they want. Of course photo-journalism is excluded from this – sorry: no tampering at all with the image once it has been shot (other than perhaps minor adjustments that do not alter the objectivity of the photo). Personally, although I have done some photo-journalism where this does not apply, I like to use the concept of “verisimilitude” to express what I want to see. The photo is not “reality”, but a believable version of reality. That is, the image is similar to the truth. For example in painting, abstract art is not at all similar to reality, while a surreal image is similar to reality even though impossible. Magritte has a famous painting: It is a pipe under which he has written ’C’est n’est pas une pipe’ (This is not a pipe). Of course that because it is in fact an image which depicts a pipe, not a pipe. The image though, does bear a visual similarity with a pipe. That’s how I like to think of my photography. They resemble reality. Less so than other “purist” images, more so than “fantasy” or “surrealist” images.

To see what I mean by all this you can see a collection of landscape photos I’ve recently exhibited at http://www.thelot-media.co.uk/twyfordia

On Photography

Christopher Newberry

Winchester, United Kingdom

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