If photography is allowed to stand in for art in some of its functions it will soon supplant or corrupt it completely thanks to the natural support it will find in the stupidity of the multitude. It must return to its real task, which is to be the servant of the sciences and the arts, but the very humble servant, like printing and shorthand which have neither created nor supplanted literature.
Charles Baudelaire, 1859.
Photography is a young Art, with a history of less than 200 years. It immediately became under fire from the artistic establishment and was widely reviled as shown in the quote above, by French poet, Charles Baudelaire. Every art form needs tools of some description to produce, but because photography needs carefully constructed, mechanised boxes and a degree of scientific application, it was seen as merely as a method of recording reality and certainly not an art form in its own right.
Photography has endured and evolved over time, and with the arrival of digital imaging equipment, smartphones and the internet, it can be argued that it is now possibly the most widely practised and democratic art form on the planet, where (almost), everyone has an equal opportunity to have their work viewed by a global audience.
More Artists are using photography as a way of expressing themselves and showcasing their art, from conventional forms, including land and seascapes, to work that truly pushes the boundaries of what constitutes ‘good’ photography. Artists such as William Klein and Uta Barth are notable proponents of a style in which focus (arguably one, if not the most important principle of what constitutes a ‘good’ photograph), is used as a method of encouraging the viewer to look more deeply at their work. Barth says “I value confusion, it underscores the activity of looking.”
In her book “Why it does not have to be in focus” (1), filmmaker and journalist, Jackie Higgins looks at 100 images that on first view, appear to be badly composed and exposed, or out of focus and explains why these works are so powerful and demonstrate an artistic integrity that should be lauded.
The work of Artists such as Barth, Klein, Dan Flavin and others has had a profound effect on me in my own work. Before attending university, I would describe myself as a solid, technically competent and proficient photographer, with a good eye for what constituted an appealing picture.
In a word, my work was ‘conservative.’
Whilst there is nothing incorrect about producing work that is safe and comfortable, I knew that I could do more. See more. Be more.
Taking the step into ignoring convention was so refreshing: I ceased to be fascinated by collecting the latest, greatest piece of technology, the fastest lenses and counting megapixels and began to truly look and observe for the first time in my artistic life.
I have mentioned before a conversation I had with my course tutor, Karen Heald, about ‘looking for the Art within the Art’ and with her advice and the outside influences I have discovered all playing a vital role in helping to shape my creative urges, I have embarked on a new and exciting direction, that of ‘finding poetry in the mundane.’ I am drawn to colour, texture and tone. Bold shapes, shadows and grain. Wherever we are, from our bedroom to the high street, mountain pass or a concrete box, there is art to be observed, if we look closely enough.Working on a series of images taken through my living room window at various times of day and night, I have tasked myself with producing work that is abstract, colourful and rich in tone, from the dreariest of source materials-some tarmac, a set of traffic lights and some steps to a railway station. My intention is for the viewers of my work to truly look at my work, both with their eyes and their imagination.
1: Why it does not have to be in focus, Higgins J. London. Thames and Hudson, 2013.