Saturday, 24 September 2011

A Photograph is just a click

I was having a discussion on facebook with a friend, who is painter, photographer and film maker. During the course of the discussion he told me that a photograph is just a click. It might be a simple statement of the relative ease of taking a photograph compared to his other artistic pursuits, but there are all sort of other implications that could be read into it. I thought it would be entertaining for me to bore you all with my philosophical musings on this statement. I appreciate that this is a bit of an odd post coming as it is after 9 month's silence, but I've got to restart somewhere, haven't I?

For the record, none of what follows is the opinion of my friend.

A photograph is just a click. That's it, no effort, just a click, the shutter exposes the sensor in just a few hundredths of a second and its done. Click. Its certainly not a false statement, but neither is it true.

The statement implies that compared to painting for instance, photography is not skilled. That the photographer can effortlessly capture the image in a click. While that might be true for some, it ignores the fact that there are many ways of taking photographs with a varying degree of skill and difficulty. At one end of the scale you might accidentally snap a photo as you trip up and yet still create something you love. At the other end of the scale you might have a commercial photograph that may have taken months of preparation before the click and more after the click. In an interview in The F Stop Magazine Anthony Crossfield said that his image The Hunt took six months to create. That's an extreme case. You might argue that it's photo illustration rather than photography but it is art created by photography, which counts in my book.

This illustrates my next point, that a photograph is not just what happens when you press the shutter. Some of the magic happens before the click and there is scope for further refining of the image after. In some forms of photography the tripping of the shutter is such a minor part of making a picture that the photographer will get an assistant to do it. Preparation, Visualisation and Composition come first and then the click. In fact one click is frequently not enough. Philipe Halsman's photo Dali Atomicus took 28 attempts over a period of six hours.

After the click there is still more than can happen in post production. With the advent of photoshop there are a huge number of things that can be done going way beyond the tricks of the darkroom.

All of these things before and after the click can be done without skill, or they can require a huge amount of skill, knowledge and effort to pull them off. When I assisted commercial photographer David Rowland on one of his jobs, the skill and experience that he used to light a washing machine was an eye-opener to me, finessing light and shade to make the tones of the silver machine look perfect. Just for an image that was going to appear for a couple of seconds on a TV commercial.

A further implication is that photography is not as worthy as other art forms where skill and effort are seen as a requirement. Look at painting. does it always require skill and effort to make a beautiful image? To paint in the style of Mondrian requires a very modest amount of skill and yet his work is celebrated. If you took two paintings, one of which took a lot of skill and effort, the other without technical prowess that was produced in a short space of time? Which would be the most worthy? There is no answer to that question because skill and effort alone do not make the picture. You can have skill and perseverance and still produce images that nobody but your mother would love. Granted that there is some enjoyment to be had from recognising the skill and hard work that went into creating an image. But on the whole, in photography nobody cares how hard it was to create an image.

The whole question of value is a big problem in photography for people wanting to earn a living of it. People recognise that it takes along time to create a painting but photography its seems, is just a click.

There is an implication in the statement that the length of time it took to create the image is important. Why? The worth of an image is independent of the time and effort used to create it. If you find an inkblot beautiful then it simply is. If you find a photograph beautiful then it is. Art can be found as well as made. The fact that its just a click has no real importance at all.

To finish off I'm going to paraphrase a story from The Way Of The Assassin. I think it illustrates my point more succinctly than my ramblings so far.

A rich man asks a master artist to draw him a fish. The ultimate fish that represents all fish. The master agreed to paint the fish and told the man to go home and he would contact him when the painting was done. So the man waited and days became weeks, weeks became months and months became years. Finally the rich man returned to the artist to demand his fish. The Artist took a brush and in just three strokes painted him a fish that was all he had dreamed of. The rich man asked why it took him so long to give him the painting when it only took seconds to paint. The artist went to a cupboard and opened the doors, out fell hundreds of paintings of fish