I Want to be a Photographer - or an artist - a rant about people with cameras

March 05, 2014  •  2 Comments

A rant about people with cameras. Some days, I have all I need to hear and I overflow.

So here it is. No bad words, just stuff.

Every group of photographers I know seems divided, by their intent, into two groups, whether they own up to it or not. One group is those who aspire to be craftsmen (or craftswomen). They want to control their equipment and refine their technique so they can capture anything in front of their lens in the way they want to capture it. The rest desire to be artists but may not mention it and it is only evident by their photography.

It is rare that someone who starts learning in a craft-based community, like photography, will declare themselves to be an 'artist', perhaps because that seems to be putting themselves above their fellows, somehow pretentious or presumptuous or thinking what their friends are doing isn't good enough.

Interestingly, many people will actually try to denigrate the role of 'artist', perhaps in some sort of compensatory maneuver to explain their own choice of 'career'. It's sort of 'I'm a plain guy doing workmanlike things and, if its good enough for me, no one else should have any other ideas.' 

There is also the implication is that artists don't conform to the high standards of execution of the craft that photographers as craftsman do. Yet it is a common trope that, when a craftsman exceeds the usual standards, producing work that is new and creative, he or she is designated by his/her admirers as an 'artist' eg “my hairdresser is not just a hairdresser but an artist.”

Generalizing, as I see it, a craftsman has, or intends to have, the skill to faithfully reproduce some other person's artistic vision and there is no connotation of any particular individual creativity. Yes, they can make it a bit better, yes they can polish techniques or refine the final product in some way, but there is no insinuation that they will be using the medium to discover or say new things. And many people within the craftsman community edge their work closer and closer to art, attempting new views and new ways of seeing the same subjects.

An artist is really defined by the intent to produce something that reflects his or her artistic sensibilities, pushing out from standard ways to find something new – and, unfortunately, there is no implicit connotation of skill.

One with no skills and no talent to attain or polish them is a poor craftsman.
One having great skills, but having poor or no creative instincts, will be a poor artist.

The creative urge is ubiquitous. And it doesn't take much effort in sculpture, painting, drawing, etc. to see, except in very rare circumstances, very clearly the limits in native talent and the urgent necessity for actual skills and knowledge to be creative. No sensible person, except a small child, believes he or she could sit down at a piano or pick up a violin and actually produce something that anyone else would want to hear, let alone create a new piece of music.

Unfortunately, having few skills and untried creative instincts, seems not to keep anyone from declaring themselves an 'artist.'  Photography is rather singular among the creative arts in that effort is supported by a huge and intricate technology.  Anyone who can buy a camera can direct that technology.

And because of that technology, photography is all to susceptible to faux 'artists' who rush in, armed only with the desire to create and few or no skills, knowledge or experience.

These faux artists, who don't know any better, can take a camera, make simple settings, press the shutter button and get a reasonably sharp, reasonably well-exposed result - ignoring the obvious fact that the camera did everything but aim itself and press the shutter release.

Again, not knowing any better, they can assume they have the vehicle to transport their creative ideas to fruition and declare themselves an “artist.” Smart cameras will, as long as the operator doesn't interfere too much, produce decent results under common conditions; after all the design engineers have spent years and millions of dollars/yen planning for common conditions.

Modern cameras have raised the level of the ordinary run of standard photographs, produced essentially automatically, so high that the line between ordinary, routine crap produced by a smart camera and actual good stuff produced by a skilled photographer is not easily discernible by an unknowing viewer.

But, when the requirements or conditions or scene get out of that narrow bounds that the engineers have planned for or when creativity is called for, these standard pictures fall apart. With little experience or knowledge these faux artists can't recognize the source of defects in the image and sometimes are even blind to their presence. Typically, in the reverse of the 'craftsman' snobbery, they also seem to believe that the standards of the craft, the skills, the experience are of minor importance in comparison to the strength of their artistic vision. 

'Creativity' is a easy goal in the abstract; children are 'creative.' But, in the reality, harnessing creativity to produce art on a day to day basis is difficult. Having something to say with art and being able to say it successfully is a constant challenge and any success is hard won. So once having an idea and then wanting to express it, the artist must be able to depend on skill and experience.

I've worked, learned, practiced, dealt with failure and persevered at the creative act, and let me tell you that art is hard – even if the artist has all the skills of the craft. 

So often I go to shows where photography is displayed and I see images that are out of focus or poorly processed or mis-framed - and these are not creative decisions but unrecognized or ignored defects - and the photographer waves off these issues as being unimportant.  It is as if everything that any artist does in preparation for being able to create and sustain that window into another reality just doesn't count. That, because they don't know or care, they believe they have invented a new way to create by skipping over all of this knowledge, craft, experience stuff that all the rest of us struggle with. It's a great time saver not to actually have to 'know' anything or be able to 'do' anything with any degree of skill.  (While it may seem like I am placing undue emphasis on technical 'correctness' as opposed to the art of any image, my attitude is that technical issues are totally irrelevant until they detract from the image - and then technical faults become enormously important.)

And perhaps that gets to the crux of it; their behavior, the obvious lack of craft and skill or the denial of it on the part of these 'faux' artists, is as damn insulting to me as someone who, having just bought a camera, goes out looking for work as a wedding photographer while believing, in their ignorance, that they are competent.. It is denying the importance of the preparation that artists do and the difficulty at succeeding at creating art.  

Why should I care?

I care because, besides my family, there is nothing in this world that means more to me than photography as art.

I am offended by really bad photography, badly executed, badly finished being passed off as art. I don't mean art with some potentially higher concept that I'm not getting - I'm perfectly willing to accept  as 'art' work that I don't understand - but pictures of flowers and shrubs and peoples faces that are badly done in every conceivable way, where the technical mistakes are so ubiquitous and obvious and so disruptive that they virtually clamor for attention.  I am happy and confident in my own critical sense to dislike them.

When bad photography is represented as good by the nominal authorities - galleries- then the public conception of photography as an art form suffers.



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Clayton Bowman(non-registered)
You are so busy with your feeling and opinions that you are leaving out some basic facts.

Most photo have to fit into a specific style and format of the subject and the style
of the artist. In painting it is the same, mostly because of the choices of a gallery,
a curator or publication.

Who would one consider as "More"? A runner who breaks world records or a driver who breaks records in motorcycling or auto racing. The artists brush is extremely simple device the camera, one of the most technically complicated tools we have, yet, these days more people can use a modern camera than a hammer and nails.

The word artist developed in a world of farmers and fisherman, from Michaelangelo to Modigliani, from people who believed in gods, dragons and demons brought to us as a sign of intelligence and good taste, beginning with kings and concubines, leading to curators and collectors.

Art began as fetish and fables. Today it is fashion and fawning.

It is considered by many of today's artists as, "Everybody is an artist".. and/or, "Art is anything in a different context."

The only answer I can offer is... Go back to the 19th century... The future will only produce more art and less creative concepts. Most of our rantings are only descriptions of our own limits of accepting and understanding, especially in a field that really doesn't require any. It is all opinion, choice, emotion and money.

There are no fish in the mind of the fisherman, no farm in the farmer, nor art in the artist. Food and art are products for our mind to consume and enjoy.

The product is not the producer. One can love their art, but don't fall in love with the artist, it is only a newer form of disappointment. CB
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