Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Photography, Still Life and Learning

One of the reasons I love photography is because you never need to stop learning. There is always new gear, new computer software, new techniques and a never ending quest to master them all and of course a never ending supply of subjects.

Because of this never ending quest, I am now taking a new class (yes, not teaching) that will hopefully help guide me, my photography and my art to a new path. In class two last night we discussed “Why Photography?”
It seems a simple enough question. But upon analysis of one’s own photography and why I do it, it can become more complicated.

The most common answer is almost always “Because I Can’t Draw” or “Paint.” But then, I wonder why some people think they can just pick up a camera and “Create Photographic Art”. Don’t get me wrong here, this statement is not meant to trash people’s abilities so let’s look at the statement.

Drawing well or painting well requires a lot of skills that are learnt through years of training and practice. Learning to paint like a Master can be even more challenging. When someone makes the statement they can’t draw or can’t paint they usually mean they “Cannot draw (or paint) something that will look realistic.” That’s the point isn’t it?

Guido Mocafico

What I mean is that these people think or believe that their drawing or painting must look realistic to be good art. This is their belief. The belief that art is merely a copy of the real world. With a camera, they can achieve this task by simply ‘clicking the button’ (words chosen carefully). Click. Print. Done. Look, a perfect copy.

Obviously these people do not understand what art is. Most art is NOT merely a copy of the real world but rather planned and calculated look at the world, real or imagined, that is created using specific mediums with specific techniques and chosen viewpoints. In and amongst this, stories or statements (political or otherwise) can be added or created within the image. Some art is not this at all but rather aesthetically created (not necessarily pleasing) from nothing and is not a re-creation of anything at all.

Looking at a simple still life image, drawn, painted or photographed, we see what looks like a simple re-creation of life. But, most well done images are far from that. They are usually ultra-calculated, the correct ‘subject’ must be found, the supporting objects must be carefully chosen, the colors need to work together and then a platform and backdrop must be chosen to add or complement the actual subject. One wrong move and it could fail miserably. Then we need to deal with light. Light is always so important. And, finally a view point needs to be chosen.

Scott Peterson

Some people cannot put any of this together in any sort of artistic cohesive fashion and so their images fail miserably. Yet, others can magically create these scenes in minutes but may fail with the lighting and the technical aspects of the photography.

You see much like painting, photography has a tool much like the paintbrush (or palette knife, or twig), and it’s called the camera. It can be used in many ways. The tool can be changed and modified to create a myriad number of varying tools. These can then be used in conjunction with a whole slew of various techniques (brush strokes). Combined, the subject, the light, the tool and the technique, creates a final image.

By simply clicking the button, one is not creating art, but rather copying a scene. Monkeys have been taught to capture ‘scenes’. It’s funny how they intrinsically know to photograph other monkeys but they do it. They are not creating art. If you are simply a clicker, are you a photographer?

Some people like ‘copying scenes’ and that’s OK. Some may do it to remember a trip, or to capture their grandchild’s first steps. Others may do it to capture a beautiful scene or beautiful object so that they can see these things again later. And, that’s ok also, but a copy of a beautiful object is not art.

Francois Cleroux - This image is a result of hours of work. 20 plus poppies and
combinations of poppies were photographed. Lighting was carefully crafted.

So, when someone says they do Photography because they can’t paint, can an argument be made that they can’t ‘photograph’ either? New photographers need to spend the time to learn the tools and techniques required to purposefully create images much like a painter will choose his canvas, paint, brush and a style of strokes to create the image he wants.

As a new photographer, I encourage you to learn everything you need to learn about photography from the tool to the final print and to learn to see the world, your subject or your imagination in new ways. Do not simply become a ‘clicker’ but an artist, a photographer.

Take classes that will help you with the 'technical' aspects of photography and then learn the artistic aspects of photography. For me, I am taking a three semester class that will help me explore my photography from an artistic and creative perspective that will hopefully guide me to newer and better.

I hope that this post is not insulting to you as it was not meant to be. If you are a clicker and thats why you have a camera, great. If you see yourself as a photographer/artist, then I hope this encourages you to learn more. If you do not agree with my statements, please let me know but mor importantly, let me know why. As an artist, why did you choose photography?

© 2012 Jean-François Cléroux

(Version 1.00 - October 2012)

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- Francois Cleroux