Photography is a unique creative form. In one way at least, it’s similar to music, in that within modern society it serves multiple functions, from being a recognized fine art form to prolifically serving the mundane, everyday world of popular and folk culture. One could argue that a single image of photographic art takes mere fractions of a second to obtain.
“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” – Marc Riboud
With the rise of digital media, it’s possible to gather literally thousands of images (potential pieces of fine art?) in a few hours. I could never paint that many images in the same amount of time. Further, of all potential art forms, digital image making is truly a medium for the masses. As for how or when it becomes art, the answers will continue to evolve with the medium itself. To me, digital photography in the 21st century is a bag full of unsolvable contradictions and paradoxes. Luckily, I don’t feel the need to sort it out. Photography, whether digital or film, has always offered me a reason to look more closely at my experience, to notice and appreciate details, light and the phenomenal world. I’m fascinated by this kind of seeing and if I am able to relax into it, there’s no end to it. The more I look, the more I see. Over time, I’ve found that I develop an intimacy with the world that might not arise ordinarily. This is especially true for those places I visit often. It is this intimacy that I savor, enjoy and appreciate. I don’t know if that ever results in art – it’s the process of looking that’s important to me.
Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects. The object is nothing, light is everything. – Leonard Missone
Our eyes are calibrated to respond to what we call “light” and they are far more sensitive than we perceive ordinarily in the everyday rush of our modern world. Photography offers the opportunity to slow down and allow our eyes to receive the complete detail and exquisiteness of our world. Sometimes we are pulled into doing this during a particularly vivid sunset or when we appreciate the lights of a night cityscape. But photography as an on-going practice offers us a compelling reason to slow down and gradually learn to see this way all the time. It offers a doorway into a way of looking that is always possible, but that most people choose to ignore. One of the most difficult things as a digital photography teacher is getting students to slow down and just see clearly what is presenting itself in their moment-to-moment experience. Oftentimes students don’t want to take the time to see first – they’re so habituated to the “shoot first, look later” approach popularized and perpetuated through social media. Photography with a more deliberate approach goes against the grain of our habitual way of moving through the world. Nevertheless, it could also be viewed as a welcome antidote to the accelerating pace of life in the 21st century.