Seeing the art, not the Artist

Calla Lilly

Several weeks ago, Leo Lubow (lubowphotography.com) judged a competition at my local camera club (www.baltimorecameraclub.org).  He has judged here on several occasions over the years and I enjoy listening to his insightful and well thought out comments.  This competition was no different and upon seeing several images he made a comment that has stuck with me ever since and has made me think about looking at photographs in a different way, including my own work.  He stated that when he looks at an image he wants to form a connection with the subject and based on what he sees he allows his imagination to form the story.  However, upon seeing several of the images he felt that he was distracted by the efforts the artist had made to “make” the image.  Examples included heavy processing (e.g. unrealistic colors), use of HDR beyond including detail in shadows and highlights and the use of borders.  At first glance, while his comments might suggest a more purist approach to photography, I have thought about what Leo said and I think there is a degree of validity that can be applied to all types of photography.

Every image we create includes a part of our own personal story.  Our images include elements of our thoughts, feelings, experience, imagination and mood, both at the time we took the photograph and when we created the final image.  As our feelings change, so will our images.  The images we create are a part of who we are and we create them to convey our message, whether it be to describe the beautiful landscape we saw, the lives of people on our streets, our pets or simply our imagination running wild.  However, most people who view our images have no idea who we are and therefore have no way of knowing why we created an image the way we did.  They cannot get inside our heads or hearts to understand what we are saying and why we are saying it.  Therefore, the viewer is left to form their own connection and create their own interpretation and story.  If our images are to be appreciated by others it would seem to make sense to create images that not only tell our own personal story, but also provide an opportunity for a willing member of our audience to place themselves within our shoes and imagine themselves looking at the scene in front of them and creating their own story by layering their own thoughts, feelings and experiences.  In this sense, forcing ourselves (the artist) into the image will limit our viewers’ opportunity to form their own connection because they will be distracted by what we are forcing them to see rather than giving them the opportunity to see.

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