Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary. -Blaise Pascal
I couldn’t help but put a few words down here after listening to what I just listened to. It made me think some of those deep thoughts. You know, the kind that raises more questions than answers, at least for now. Questions like; why do people do what they do? Yes, this is about photography, and much more.
It wasn’t all that long ago the very ambition of photography was to attempt to approximate how we see the world. This was attempted in many different ways. Most all those ways had some sort of human manipulation added. Many of the so-named photographic masters of yesteryear produced strictly black and white images. Nobody sees the world in black and white so there was a tremendous manipulation of the real world with all those works.
This is not about how photographers process their images. That is a giant can of worms that range from, black and white, to hdr, to infrared. It all seems like fair game today. Whatever you want to do, do it.
My questions and now concerns seem to go far beyond what others do with their images. It begins before that. It begins with; why do people believe a photograph has to be “fantastical” for anyone to like it, or to mean something?
Is it no longer enough to make a good or even great photograph of a simple of a peaceful scene, or a quiet evening, or a moment of tranquil bliss? Is it no longer enough to make a good photograph of a desert playa that may have never had a human foot placed on it? Must it now have mysterious tracks on it to be worth caring about? Or a stance of big bluestem that has roots so deep years and years of drought does not phase it. Does it now need a tornado above it to make it better?. Or a broken oyster shell on a golden beach in the morning light. Must it now have lava racing towards it to worth photographing? Or a piece of ancient limestone that when looked at closely one can see tiny Fusulinids. Small marine organisms whose shells look like grains of wheat, they were so abundant during the Pennsylvanian and Permian periods that many limestones are almost solid masses of fusulinid shells. Are these miracles of nature just too ordinary today? Or do tornados, volcanos, and mystery tracks in the desert enhance the beauty, serenity, or magic of nature?
The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. -T. S. Eliot
Here is what I do know. Many of the photographs taken and shared in droves today seem to be of the “fantastical” nature. That is to say, they are of places on the other side of the Earth from where the photographer lives and shares his work. They are of extreme situations or moments. Situations such as violent storms including what must be a crowning gem to many photographers, a tornado. Or maybe of a double rainbow over a city. Or night sky with the circles of starlight and Polaris directly in the middle. Or the exact moment an Eagle grabs a fish from the water. Or when….., well, I hope you get the point.
Not many of us are going to see things like a tornado, double rainbow over a city, the combined starlight of a six-hour exposure, or an Eagle snatching a fish from the water. So does this mean we are missing out on something? It seems like it must. Why else would those who claim to be photographers flock to places around the globe to capture such things?
Recall my question at the beginning? Why do people do what they do? This is the “what” I am talking about. Yes, I understand there is the personal pleasure element in this, they enjoy it. I’m glad they do. We all should find those things that make us feel alive. We as humans are able to enjoy many things that are not considered extreme or rare every day. Why do photographs need to be this way for us to enjoy them?
Everything popular is wrong. -Oscar Wilde
Obviously, photographs do not “need” to be this way, but it is becoming harder and harder to claim this. The fantastical is here and seems to be an aphrodisiac that lures a man’s soul into its lair. It may have to do with what seems to be a shorter and shorter attention span for many. They believe they don’t have time to actually enjoy a piece of art. They need immediate stimulation so they can make it to the next level and hopefully something even more stimulating.
My assumption is, this is a fallacy not with viewers but with creators. They too can be afflicted with the “more is better” mindset. There are many animals that if you keep giving them food will keep eating, to the point of self destruction.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned these thoughts were sparked by something I had listened to recently. It was actually two things that I had listened to within a couple days of each other.
The first was a podcast by Brooks Jensen, editor, publisher of the magazine Lenswork. The Ordinary In Photography.
The other is a TEDx Talk by Dewit Jones. I found myself very moved emotionally listening to this: Celebrate Whats Right In The World.