“At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands before our camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect–a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known.” – Robert Adams

Benevolently I refer to the photographs I create as art. How boisterous and self-indulgent I must be to make such a claim. At times it makes me squint my eyes with arduous unease. Who am I to make even the slightest reference to my photographs as art.

I say these things not satirically, no, not at all, but in complete honest belief in them. There is one thing that is for certain, art is not just anything. It is not whatever you or I want it to be just because we say so.

In the words of Robert Adams, “we are the sum of the places we have walked.” The obvious question to follow this is; where have you walked? 

Do you walk the same path most days? Go through the same rituals? Do you save your “adventure” time for maybe one of two days per week? One day a week, four days per month, 48 days per year. Is this all the time you are willing to live your life the way you want?

Art is not just anything. Life is not just anything. “The more we walk the less we are inclined to claim we know.” Another truthful quip from Robert Adams. 

“The job of the photographer, in my view, is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope.” – Robert Adams

The world is and will forever be full of wonder. It will also be full of hurt, sorrow, misery, and hate. These are all paths that life goes down. It may not be enough to force yourself in one direction. Many times one path closes and leaves only the alternative. But as surely as they close they will also reopen. When they do, where will you be walking? Will you still be repeating the rituals of yesterday?

We will always have a choice, though at times the choices may seem completely undesirable. Nonetheless, the choices we make affect the choices we will ultimately have. 

I never chose to make art, and ironically I still don’t. So why would I refer to my photographs as art? Honestly, I have no good answer for this. The only one I can think of is that it plays into the narrative. The narrative that we all have running through our mind, through our daily thoughts. I may be nothing more than a hack, but in my mind, I intentionally create photographs that have a meaning, if to no one but myself. 

It is true that I don’t fully understand art from contemporary artists such as John Baldessari, but I can agree and appreciate his view on art. When asked what he thought art was, he replied; “Not a clue. Not… a… clue.”

Art has never been easy. It is not simply a label we put on whatever we want. French composer and musician Olivier Messiaen listened so attentively to birds he would incorporate their voices into his music. How could I possibly relate to such dedicated expressions, attention to craft, or life moving experience? Honestly, I will never be the one able to answer that.

With experiences such as Olivier Nessiaen had one would believe his music is the epitome of art. It seems to be more clear to me that his music was only a part of the whole that could be called art. The other part? The other part was Nessiaen the person. The art was not just the notes, composition, or the scribbles of musical dialog on paper. It was the result of where he walked, the paths he chose when available. I can not help but believe the art, the true art, was deep inside the person. Music was simply a chosen medium in which he may, when fortunate, be able to express it. 

I don’t believe a photograph can be art. I don’t believe a painting, sculpture, poem, song, or object can be art. But any of these do have the possibility of being art. Possibility made available by the creator and the artful life they choose to live. The devotion to their craft, their choices of experiences, their interpretation of their experiences, and finally the expressions they are able to create.

Even though art may be attached as a descriptive term for my photographs, I have no power in what others chose to see in them, or in me. I only have paths to chose, failures to experience in hopes of successes that are yet unknown.

“Silence is, after all, the context for the deepest appreciation of art: the only important evaluations are finally, personal, interior ones.” – Robert Adams

Little Bluestem of the Tallgrass Prairies

Tallgrass On Show – ©Brad Mangas


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