Writing about Photography.
Photography is a visual medium and as photographers we express ourselves with the images we make. The thought processes during this work, before we shoot, during the shoot and later in post production can be from the most simplistic to the most profound but generally stay within the subconscious. Having chosen the camera over the typewriter a decision was made to suit our abilities and aspirations. When we look at the photographs made by others we ask ourselves questions and build to a position where we gain something from the experience. Putting that response into words in an orderly fashion is the crux of this first section. The initial work of captions is often the stating of the obvious and has to be achieved within set guidelines, depending upon the audience. Writing about photography and photographs is always going to have an element of subjectivity although a structure is necessary and the audience's potential knowledge of the subject needs to be taken into account. Writing academically has a more structured approach with guidelines on research and writing style and I have found the research carried out so far to be interesting and inspiring. A trait however is to go off at a tangent and read outside of my immediate needs and as a result get behind with the prescribed work. This was particularly so with the analysis of London Street 1951, Robert Frank. Frank was a name I knew but until this research I had not realised the genius of his work and I am spending more of my time with London/Wales and the ITV The South Bank Show film made prior to his 2004 exhibition at Tate Modern.
As an introductory essay Understanding a Photograph, John Berger was not the easiest piece to get to grips with. I knew nothing of Berger at the outset and found the various films on YouTube (particularly his TV series Ways of Seeing) a useful introduction into the world of this curious (fascinating) man. He is better know in literary circles as an author, art critic and poet. His analysis and critique of various photographic work is contained in a relatively new book Understanding the Photograph, 2013. At first I was quite hostile towards him and I think most photographers faced with a non photographer offering such controversial opinions feel the same. Thereafter I began to mellow and surprisingly enough I now find myself agreeing with much of what he says. Time (his essay was written in 1972) has proven him wrong on a few issues but generally speaking his consensus that photography is not fine art will always bear a degree of truth.
To be able to write and analyse photographs and essays on photography is not easy. I have read many texts on how to achieve this and there is one underlying "must have" and that is the time spent on research. The British Journal of Photography and Source magazine are an excellent resource of essays on contemporary photography and I spend more time now reading these and following up introductions they make to new photographers. The single most overwhelming issue I have to overcome when writing about (or just thinking about) photography is to put aside any preconceived ideas and opinions that I may have which are personal and without a cogent argument. I then need to make sure my research is carried out sympathetically and carefully, without bias and detailed enough for the work in progress.
It is difficult to know to what extent any of this is having on my own photography. I take fewer "pretty" pictures and spend time on work based on abstract ideas, much of which never sees the light of day. The act of writing about photography is adding to my subconscious reaction to photographs and photography and it would be wrong to say that I work differently due to a single learning moment but I have changed as a photographer during this (level 2) process.