Photography As Part Of The Broader Visual Arts by Dan K
Dan K shares with us his experiences in developing his personal awareness and interpretation of visual language. A fascinating read. Check it out.
Photography As Part Of The Broader Visual Arts
Photography democratises art. Anyone can create an image that describes what they see, captures memories that are meaningful for them and in doing so capture other people’s imagination. For many, the journey stops there, but for others, the journey continues. Compelling photography is more about making art than documenting a scene. In this article, I will discuss my expanding awareness of the visual language and plan my personal artistic development.
Personally, I was fascinated by the technical aspects of photography, by optics, by finely machined gear and chemistry and light. It was only later that I started to develop the eye for a great picture. Some are blessed with a natural visual talent, or an education that dedicated significant time and energy to art appreciation, history and execution. I was lucky enough to study under some inspirational teachers at first, but neglected my fledgling artistic skills as I focused on academic subjects more suited to making money. I have now reached a point where I can take a photo to hang in a show or gallery without it looking amateurish; and yet it doesn’t quite satisfy me. I am still more of a picture taker than a picture creator. I want to be able to engineer the image in my mind’s eye, rather than make the best of visions presented to me.
My next step will be to work more with models, to take my time to plan out a shot. I think that most of our local camera clubs don’t do this well. I cringe at the sight of a model hitting a series of random poses as a firing squad full of photographers hits her from all angles. I think the best way is full on, with a model or two and a competent mentor. Luckily, I have such a mentor in my friend Sam Cheng, a celebrated fashion and events photographer, whom I have assisted on several shoots. I am slowly picking up on his command of fashion shoots, how he poses and works with a model.
The technical side with lighting comes naturally to me, but I confess to being a little shy with women and that has put me off taking fashion photography further. Fashion is a very specific direction, but the skills social and posing are useful for people photography in general and I can see how a better cognisance of fashion can enhance even my street photography. Portraying people and emotions is always tricky, whether drawn or photographed, because we as viewers are so well attuned to picking up emotional and physical cues. However, when everything comes together, the results are electrifying and trigger engage the viewer.
On the technical side, having gotten to grips with topics like lighting and photographic gear, I need to work more with photo manipulation, both in the darkroom and on the computer. I am sure we are all tired of seeing over-processed images or fanciful images of dolphins and pink unicorns, but photo manipulation can and should be used as the means of producing the sight that the artist hoped to achieve from the start. As Ansell Adams said, “The performance is in the print” and this applies to digital photography as much as old-school darkroom work. I trained in a darkroom many years ago and I find hands-on darkroom work immensely satisfying and lacking in artifice. At the same time, digital manipulation of a digital photograph or a scan is easier to master and does not require a darkroom. The results are consistent from print-to-print and make sense for me until I get around to building and equipping my own darkroom. If you have access to darkroom facilities, then I recommend this, especially if you intend to sell prints. The varied results make each print a one off work and in my opinion this adds value.
Another direction to proceed will be in mixed media. I want to use mixed media as a way of presenting my images and have the presentation contribute more to the appreciation of the image and it’s impact on the viewer. The image itself is king, but the context that the presentation adds affects how that image is perceived. One of the strongest and most compelling aspects of still photography is its reductive nature. For example, by subtracting areas that are in sharp focus, you can better guide the viewer’s attention; by working in monochrome, you can highlight shape, structure and texture. The decisive moment frozen in time leads to mystery and wonder. And yet, art can be additive. Selectively adding back movement and/or sound through short video clips may contribute to the story or overall impression.
At the same time, I will also explore painting, particularly textured acrylics. I learned draw with pencil relatively well and my photography has begun to enhance my visual expression beyond sketching in still life. I am better able to deliver a picture that is compositionally stronger, and truer to life. Drawing allows me to make the picture I want, that I may be unable to capture with a camera, because it exists only in my imagination. Photography has been a good teacher of perspective, of tone and light, the way we see things in the moment, the details we ignore and those that carry meaning. I want to be able to present an image that describes as much in what it does not show as that which it does. Learning to do so in other media will help me to achieve the same in photography as I become more aware of how the mind perceives and fills in details and perhaps the best way to come to that understanding is to learn to paint. A picture I saw on twitter brought this home to me. Jenny Aitken, the artist, had painted a seascape, complete with specular highlights and other touches that conveyed such a glorious impression of being there. She had skilfully laid down paint leaving the impression of the waves and leaving the viewer’s imagination to fill in the details. As each imagined detail entered my mind, I found myself transported to that seaside till I could practically hear and smell the surf.
In the end, every skill we develop contributes to our art and adds to our eloquence as a visual storyteller.
Everyone is travelling on their own path, but we can learn a lot from each other’s discoveries and direction. Share with us in the comments how your photography has developed and where you are headed.
Dan K is a life-long enthusiast photographer. He celebrated his return to film by collecting just about every quality camera and lens that he could lay his hands upon. Along the way he has developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of film cameras and film processing. Follow him on twitter for a humorous look at photography techniques and technology from all eras. Follow him on Tumblr for his images, journey of photographic discovery and a generous helping of gear-porn.
Past articles that he’s written on similar topics:
Text © Dan K. All rights reserved.