'Is there anything peculiarly ''photographic'' about photography; something which sets it apart from all other ways of making pictures?' (Joel Snyder and Neil Walsh Allen, Photography, Vision, and Representation, Critical Inquiry Autumn 1975 )
In my opinion the fact that the photographic image has a different ontological basis than the other types of visual representations is undeniable. In oppose to painting or drawing the photograph can’t come to life without the physical existence of its subject (the light must reflect off something to be recorded).
Despite though the truly unique ability to record the trace of reality and invoke (in more or less accurate way) its 'tangible presence’, the photograph is always only a flat and static combination of shapes and colours and is always a 'different thing than the reality itself' (Szarkowski, p.8).
I believe that to experience the ‘really real’ moment in a particular time and space one must be present physically and experience it with all the senses - everything else is an representation. Photograph authenticates that particular moment but it’s not able to convey the complexity of it. That’s why the body of work is usually much more effective in conveying the author’s intention than a single image.
There are a multiple factors which influence and distance the photographic representation from the reality. Apart from the characteristics defined by Shore and Szarkowski (frame, time, focus, vantage point), there is as well the type of the camera and lens, filters, post-production methods, type of the carrier/transmitter etc.; there is as well the very important mental aspect - the way of seeing and intention.
David Bate in his book “Photography: The Key Concepts’ refers to term ‘realism' which describes the common through many centuries in all arts ‘attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, implausible, exotic and supernatural elements’. (Wikipedia)
'Reality is what we believe exists, whereas "realism" is the mode of representation that supports that reality.' David Bate
In my own practice the question about what is really real and IF is real matters mainly to myself I guess. For my audience so far, which consist of my family, colleagues at work and peers my works are unusual, weird and definitely not real. The 'realness' of objects is easily recognisable but the construction of the image invokes the reference to painting rather than the real world (it is a common comment especially when someone knows about my former painterly practice).
The reference to other more traditional and well known mediums in very often inevitable. There is always a resemblance of the famous Flemish still life paintings when we look at the contemporary still life photographs (Laura Letinsky)
Some of my works are interpret as heavily photoshopped compositions without any meaning because of the disconnection with reality through the formal approach - flattness, unusual vantage point, presence of some purely abstract shapes generated by the computer software etc. For me though they're real because I press the shutter and I know what my camera is pointing at. Or maybe I should say here - authentic instead of 'real' as only reality is real...
It matters to me that the image originates as a mirror/record of the reality. I wouldn't deal with photography if that wasn't important. It is actually easier to convey some ideas with paintings and drawing. I find it very challenging to find an adequate way to illustrate my concepts/thoughts/visions through photography, but I will persist because I find that connection with the real word, the "authenticity from which painting is barred by birth" (Arnheim in Snyder and Allen) fascinating and worth the effort.
I find those words by Snyder and Allan commenting on the Arnheim article very much resonating with my own reflections: (...)In regard to form, a photograph is a compromise between nature and the "formative power" of man, a "compromise" or "coproduction".
I'd add here as well the apparatus as a third 'collaborator'. I feel that a process of recording an image is a form of collaboration between me, other apparatuses and indeed the nature.
It became more apparent when I started to add layers by rephotographing the computer screen and provoking the visual artefacts characteristic to the construction of the camera and the screen (moire). Those forms are visible only when I look through the viewfinder and then on the recorded image. They would never appear in my compositions if not for the combination of my actions and properties of the devices.
- Snyder, Joel and Allen, Neil Walsh (1975) "Photography, Vision, and Representation", Critical Inquiry
- Szarkowski, John (2007) "The photographers eye", The Museum of Modern Art
- Bate, David (2016) "Photography (The Key Concepts)", Bloomsbury Academic