Photography As Art: Photography In Thailand
The subject of photography as a possible art form rewards thought. So so many pictures have been taken. So many times three-dimensional reality has been reduced to two dimensions. What does it all come to? Is it just desire, and hope, or dream triggering muscular responses and brain synapses; or can photographic images authored by humans sometimes result in art? Art is a filtration, order from chaos. A Jackson Pollock painting of the exceptional kind is, believe it or not; an example of order from chaos. Chaos is infinite. What didn’t he include? Filtration. Order from chaos. Art.
A characteristic of art is that it rewards more than once. A rereading, or a reviewing, or a relistening rewards again. And again. And again. And ten years later, again. A seemingly bottomless well you fall down, tumbling and spinning and reaching out to grasp the changing reality of the experience. Don’t worry, it is a smiling thing and you will be happy for the falling and the tumbling and the spinning. My personal epiphany of this fact was the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Every rereading has presented me with a different aspect of a work of art. Has a beautiful woman ever been looked at just once?
Are great, exceptional photographic images like this; or are most of them in the one-and-done category? If the best picture you have taken and/or the best picture you have ever seen is in the one-and-done category than it is not art. Not a deal breaker, you will still have fun with your camera; but an important definition.
You see this all the time in photo gallery shows. One look and people keep walking. Easy to blame the ignorant viewer but remember, these are the people who came to the show. Maybe it is not all their fault if a picture does not make them stop, and stare, and look, and ponder; and then restare and relook and reponder. Maybe a better way to think of these gallery goers is that they are searchers. Searching for the image that will compel them to stop. Searching unknowingly or subconsciously for art. The pretty girl in the singles bars knows what she is doing. She is a searcher. She is searching for the man experience that will make her eyes dilate and her heart race. She is looking for the male work of art.
Do people look at your photographs twice? Three times? Four times? Do they remember your photographs and think about your photographs when they are no longer standing in front of them? Do they look at your photographs from different angles, or distances, or different light sources? Maybe that should be a part of the big photography equation: to ask yourself how many times viewers are going to relook at your picture before you take the picture. If you do not take the picture are you going to remember it tomorrow or is it already forgotten? Well, if it is already forgotten, maybe it was not worthy in the first place.
Michelangelo’s sculpture Pieta was not a walk-on-by or one-and-done when he completed it and he knew it. He had the certainty of an artist completing a masterpiece. Do any of your pictures give you that feeling of certainty? Yes, delusion counts. I know it sounds silly or charitable, but at least you are on the right track. If you have taken five hundred pictures and you cannot offer up one example of what I am talking about maybe it is time to ask yourself what you are doing.
Daniel Tammet in his book Thinking in Numbers says: “I am reminded of Nabokov’s view that we can never read a book: we can only reread it. “A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader,” says Nabokov, “is a rereader.” Initial readings, he explains are always laborious, a “process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation.”
In other words, the first time someone sees one of your photographs all they can do is register its existence. It’s too soon for finessing the experience. Rods and cones are too busy sending information to the brain to be registered as data. It is only on the reviewing, and the looking again, and the repeated gaze that the viewer can recognize how you have filtered order from chaos, created art. But the first interruption of the viewers reality state has to be compelling enough to make someone look again, and again, and again. This may only happen in a second or a part of a second, but the repetition has to be there for the picture to receive the attention that it maybe deserves. With a beautiful woman it is called art. The older man calls it seduction. How about your photos? Are they seducing? Should you be thinking more about art?
Are you walking around the Kingdom with a camera in your pocket or hanging around your neck? Are you looking for details, themes, novelty, the pretty girl’s smile? I see stories in Thailand to be a story-a-day place. But what of photography? How come I am not lugging a camera around if I am so smart and clever and alert and so sensitive to my environment? Simple. For me, I know my limits. I can see or feel a story easily, not so easily a picture. It has taken me a long time to accept the fact that pictures can sometimes be art. It will probably take forever for me to delude myself that I can recognize two-dimensional art (pictures). If you can see pictures-as-art where I can not see pictures-as-art: I respect your abilities. I wish I could mine the Kingdom for photographic art.
An ex-pat Internet friend of mine sends me with regularity pictures of meals-food-place settings-eating as a marker of civilization. His use of the camera
to mark civilizations slog out of the muck and the mire to brighter, happier days is inspirational. Almost art. Beyond what I can do. The argument could be made that he is getting more out of the Thai experience than I am getting out of the Thai experience.
Today he sent me a food-place setting picture from Pai with middle ground of crops and plantings–background of mountains and sky. The foreground was the table and place setting with a nice vase full of wild flowers. Art? No, not quite. Very close and in my opinion maybe his best work. But the distance between almost art and photography in the Kingdom as art is a great gap for the spark to jump. I wish I could do what he can do. I wish I could mine the Kingdom for photographic art.
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