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Informing Contexts - The Image and The Icon

Reading the article Photography, Vision and Representation by Snyder and Allen I was intrigued to learn that artists had been using a form of camera for more than 200 years before photography was even invented. They did this in order to render perspective and detail as they sketched the outline of what they were looking to paint, almost their trace of the image. This is very similar to the image that we now capture in our camera’s RAW file before we set to work on the post edit which I guess is akin to applying the layers of paint.


As a photographer I tend towards a more creative, fine art style to my work and have always been challenged by where I should draw the line in terms of my editing. Whilst I do endeavour to keep my work authentic and true to the original subject I will not be adverse to adding additional aesthetic to enhance the look and feel of the final image.


I do think the expected levels of authenticity in an image will vary depending on genres of photography. For example I would consider the opposite shot of a butterfly to be more 'fine art' than a 'wildlife' photograph where more authenticity is required. Similarly photo journalists recording true events would need to minimise their editing if they are looking to report images as fact. To do otherwise could put into question the authenticity of their practice. As was seen when some of Steve McCurry's work was highlighted as being subject to manipulation his strong response was to say that he was a 'visual storyteller' rather than 'photo journalist' . This response does point to the fact that the need for authenticity is dictated by the genre that the photography sits within.


Geoffrey Batchen said in 2002 ‘In the mere act of transcribing world into picture, three dimensions into two, photographers necessarily manufacture the image they make. Artifice of one kind or another is therefore an inescapable part of photographic life.’ When you consider the literal meaning of artifice, 'a clever or cunning device, especially as used to trick or deceive others' I was struck by whether this was indeed the case with photography and my own practice.


We have looked this week at the authenticity of photography and the reality of images both in terms of composition and editing. However is this to deceive and trick the viewer, or is it a more innocent case of enhancing the image and just making it more pleasing to the eye. Whilst each photographer will have a different line they will or will not cross in terms of editing,  is  this improvement to an image, also an attempt to cheat the viewer out of the reality of what has been photographed?


The challenge that photography has over other forms of art such as paintings and sculptures is that it is fixed to reality, the image captured will be a trace of what was in front of the camera, it's index to the subject. The viewer, unless forewarned of overt editing, will assume the starting position that they are looking at something that is or was real. Painting on the other hand assumes the opposite side of this where the lack of mechanical process means the viewer assumes the painter has created the scene and it's index is more fixed to the painters imagination than reality. Therefore painters are less likely to be criticised for enhancing an image. In Caravaggio’s image below of ‘The Vocation of Saint Matthew’, the scene clearly set in a different era to the actual time Jesus would have called Mathew, and yet we celebrate the beauty of the image rather than question it’s authenticity.


When I look at my practice, I am not afraid to edit my images in order to enhance the finer details or in some cases radically change the scene that I was shooting. Whilst I still take photographs that fall into a range of genres I am feeling more and more comfortable in describing my work as Fine Art Photography and I think this has a lot to do with the point raised in the last paragraph. Fine Art Photography tends to focus on images that are created for their imaginative or aesthetic quality. As a result this genre tends to align more with painting and I believe it gives me the freedom to both express my imagination but also to openly edit my images without fear that the viewer feels some how cheated or deceived that my photographs are not a true reflection of reality.



Like many of us, Lockdown and Social Distancing means I am having to reassess my Research Project and this image is my latest that has gone into my work in progress portfolio. Whilst the style and subject matter is very different to what I had started during the last module, there are traces of fine art in all of them and I am hoping to develop this style in the coming weeks. The start of Informing Contexts has given me the reassurance that the editing of images does not have to be considered a deceit by the photographer and has a part to play in many genres of photography.


This new direction of my research project is in its early stages but I am now looking back into the history of fine art and in particular the golden age of the Dutch Still Life paintings of the the 17th Century. With dark shadows, vibrant colours and wonderful use of light I am intrigued by the links to photography but also by the hidden meanings and context that were behind many of these delicacies.


Images


1. Common Blue - Steve Rabone

2. The Vocation of Saint Matthew 1599/1600 - Caravaggio

3. Going Dutch - Steve Rabone


Books


Hilde Van Gelder and Westgeest, H. (2011). Photography theory in historical perspective : case studies from contemporary art. Chichester, West Sussex ; Malden, Ma: Wiley-Blackwell.


Gilles Lambert and Gilles Néret (2015). Caravaggio. Köln: Taschen.


References


Dennis, J. (2019). “Photography, Vision and Representation” – Snyder and Allen. [online] J Dennis - CRJ. Available at: https://juliedennisjournal.wordpress.com/2019/02/05/photography-vision-and-representation/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2021].


Time. (n.d.). Steve McCurry: I’m Not a Photojournalist. [online] Available at: https://time.com/4351725/steve-mccurry-not-photojournalist/.



Wolkoff, J. (2018). In Dutch Still Lifes, Dark Secrets Hide behind Exotic Delicacies. [online] Artsy. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-dutch-lifes-dark-secrets-hide-exotic-delicacies.

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