Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Where now, photography?

Hey guys, before I start today's complicated post I feel I must make a stand against something. Blogger, ever the great blog hosts, are having a massive update (that can be accessed through Blogger in Draft) which, though the GUI is spiffy, is ultimately disappointing. You either choose one of their templates and be able to edit layout and 'add CSS', or you start right from scratch in HTML and don't have access to the layout page. Basically, it's a shit deal and it's left me - who usually takes a Blogger template then edits it in HTML - with a problem. Making and updating the designs of my blogs is now near-impossible - I doubt I'd be able to edit JOHNSPACE's design without transferring the HTML in a messy process. And I don't like messy, not at all. So thanks a lot, Blogger. I managed to squeeze out this blog for my Minecraft server on Sunday, but only using the old version of Blogger currently available at blogger.com. Fuck knows what I'll do with JOHNSPACE, maybe I'll have to move it.

Anyway, onto photography. I'm not showing you through every photo I took this time. My art project - hell, my whole art GCSE - was finished today in five hours of printing and binding mayhem, and I'm left drained in more ways than one. Physically and mentally drained from such a rush, such an experience, but also drained of creativity.

Here's the sitch. My creative style changes dramatically from month to month, I'm fully aware of that, I'm just exploring and finding what suits me best. Also, my creative interests change from month to month. First it was movies, then typography, design, architecture, photography and now I'm heading into a more artistic direction. It seems through this whole process - which I can only really trace back a year - photography has been the constant, the easy-to-do creative outlet that shows my progression in style. it also shows my progression in how I think about my photography.

Basically I started off with this:


This was taken when I was in Paris in summer 2009. It's a nice angle, sure, and I edited it beyond recognition, but there's nothing more to it. Most people would not care about there being nothing else to it, but for me photography is art. And what is art? Simply, a medium for expressing human emotions in non-human ways. And what emotion is shown above? None. I wasn't too bothered about this but it was only when I discovered film that I realised how powerful photographic mood is:


Suddenly, photography had a deeper purpose. It had tools - I had the ability to control aperture, shutter speed, developing, the type of film I used. That and composition, the rule of thirds, contrasting elements. Lighting. Photography became all about going somewhere, finding that all-important mood, that atmosphere, and accurately representing it in a photo. I was still a believer that photography was for capturing a moment, and the skill was in finding the perfect angle and the perfect representation of the mood I felt in the place. I couldn't - and still can't - take a decent photo in a moodless place. Sunny days are the worst - who wants blue skies? What do they emote?


My next art project saw me taking on the massive task of portraiture. I wrote in the previous project ('Urban Life', all gritty architectural B&Ws) that I didn't like taking portraits because 'people are hard to work with (and no, that's not just because I can't work with people)'. So, after seeing many great portraits (well, less portraits, more photos with people in them) from talented people on Flickr, I decided to prove myself wrong and try a portraiture project - 'One'. And it was amazing. Truly amazing. Urban architecture can only emote so much: more or less, 'gritty and downtrodden'. That's it.

But add a person into your photo and you have flexibility. You have a face - emotive mouth, those all-important eyes. How the person stands. Where they stand. If they interact with the background. What they're wearing. The possibilities are so much greater and there is more chance to get to that 'emotional photo' I am always striving for. So above is one of my first experimentations with portraits, and it's a nice shot, sure. Nice composition and DoF yada yada yada. But I learnt later on that composition means nothing. Well, something, for sure, but if you're doing photography as art it's near-meaningless unless you choose it specifically. Art is not just about taking a pretty picture. The picture must mean a lot more. And I discovered after several photoshoots that, interesting subject-surroundings interactions aside, I was taking fashion shots. Over. And over. And over. And none of them held any artistic weight.


In the eleventh hour of my 'One' portraiture project I commissioned my good friend Tom for a night photoshoot near where we live. He was reluctant, always had his mouth open in photos, and spent a lot of time informing me of how much he didn't like being in photos, but something changed. Something clicked. And it wasn't just the lonely urbane backdrop to the photoshoot. For, that evening, I realised an important thing. I don't want to take fashion shots. They look nice, sure, and I'm all for helping my friends' Lookbook pages, but there's still not enough weight. But hold on - I take away the pretty girls, take away the fancy clothes, the bokeh and the pouting. Now the photo isn't about the fashion. It's stripped of models - this guy doesn't even want to be in the photos. And now we can concentrate on something other than composition. Now we can focus on that emotional weight. Now we're taking artistic photography.

And that's where I'm left at the moment. That's where I am in the progression of my photography. I've moved slowly into taking deeper and more meaningful photos:
- The 'nice composition' aspect is important but it's only a surface thing, and is not emotive.
- Using people gives me a lot more flexility and emotion to deal with, but still I can't get to the raw emotion
- Stripping the photo of fancy clothes and fancy people means we're left with the emotion.

But I had a lot of time to look over my photos today, sticking them onto boards and what-not. I looked and looked. Because - and you're going to facepalm now - there's something missing. 'There's always something missing' you may comment. Sure, maybe there is. But I really felt like I'd reached a point of photographic enlightenment, a conclusion, and now I find it's still not enough. It's not emotive enough. I don't mean the subject should give passionate poses and intense looks - that's not what I mean by emotive. I mean that the artwork (for that is what I want it to be, eventually) should convey a strong and meaningful emotion - the basics would be 'sadness' or 'loneliness' (as above), and the ideals 'the interaction between man and his environment' or 'inner conflict in the external world'. Arty farty it may be but, once again, my photography is too lightweight.

So, sigh. A pat on the back for finishing that GCSE, but also a look to the future. I find myself once again at a photographic impasse, more prominent now that I have reached deeper in the technique of photography as art. The title of this post says 'where now'? - I honestly can't answer that question, I have no idea. Let's hope I keep trying and keep photographing and keep searching for that ideal, whatever it may turn out to be.

~John

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