The knowledge that a person is holding a pencil will be pretty meaningless information to most people. There’s no way to tell whether she is about to sketch a portrait, design a building, scribble a haiku, or write a love letter. Looking at the final outcome we judge it by what it is – perhaps a good likeness, a clever observation, an epic story, or an absent-minded doodle.
The same, for some reason, is not true for a person holding a camera. That fact alone is sufficient to prejudice many to assume he is about to make an exact record of whatever is in front of the lens. No creative license is granted. No consideration of intended use is applied.
It’s interesting to examine the history of photography and how, at various times, it was considered primarily a creative/aesthetic pursuit and, at other times, a primarily documentary one. I believe the constant exposure to photo-journalism and documentary images of the last few decades pushed the pendulum towards the latter but with the advent of better imaging tools it is about to swing back. Photography is once again as much a creative pursuit as a documentary one. The results should be judged on their own merit and intended use.
Many decry a perceived loss of credibility for the medium. Some even portray it as a moral ethical issue. When examined closely though, such credibility was never really warranted in the first place. It was as easy to manipulate a daguerreotype then as it is a digital image now. The only difference: more people are now aware of the fact. I say it’s a good thing. Those who decry ethics (there’s always someone, isn’t there?) may inadvertently help liberate the creative potential of photography and eliminate the naive expectation that every photograph is a precise record. Such protests can finally bring about the recognition that a camera can be so much more than a visual stenograph.
It always was and always will be true that everyone has an opinion. In the age of the Internet everyone also has a soapbox and can broadcast their opinion to all corners of the globe. Any attempt to sway widely-held beliefs is almost doomed from the start to be drowned out. Those who wish to promote the camera as something beyond a light recording device – as a means for creative expression – need to champion their cause through leadership by example!
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” –Richard Buckminster Fuller
Rather than further overload terms such as “fine art,” I present my work as Interpretive Photography. The order has meaning – personal interpretation is more important than the fact the medium happens to be photography.
I pledge to you that every image I make represents a scene as I saw it. And yes, there may be a difference between what it “looked like” and what it “looked like to me“. It will – always – represent a real experience, a real epiphany, a real moment in time with all the real dimensions and meanings – literal and ulterior – that it had for me and that I wanted to capture and share with you. These meanings – the holistic experience, emotions, and sensations – go far beyond mere reflected light.
Forget the pencil, forget the typewriter, forget the font… read the story!