Some Images are Records, Some Are Poems, Some Are Novels

| January 27, 2009

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!

Category: All Posts, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (6)

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  1. Ben Glatt says:

    Very nicely put, Guy. The comparison between the pencil and camera is an interesting one. I think effectively including one’s personal style in a photograph is what ultimately defines the difference between a pro and an amateur photographer. You clearly have a style that sets you apart from any other photographer that I have come in contact with. Don’t ever stop including your personal interpretation!


  2. Floris says:

    Thanks for posting the link to this on NPN, I’ll definitely be coming back. Great writing, thoughtful insights, and oh, a lovely image as well :)

  3. Leann Greene says:

    Nicely put Guy. I’d suggest people spend some time looking at grade school kids art and listen to the story they will gladly share and every squiggly line snake with huge fangs will then look “real”

    Kind of off subject from your topic but I find the comparison of camera to pencil interesting because when I hear of photography being prohibited in certain areas I wonder “would they object to someone sketching in the same situation?”

  4. Mark says:

    Very nice post Guy. Your words are interesting for me to contemplate in reflection on my own work because I find it can have quite a range from being a record to an in-depth novel. And in that – I wonder – what is it that may cause me to photograph something at one end of the spectrum versus the other? Is it my mood for the day, my physical state, or my openness to creativity? Sometimes I simply cannot think of a way to portray something other than simply showing it as it is.

  5. latoga says:

    Your comments remind me of what a fellow photographer said to me once many years ago when we were both starting down the path of digital dark room. That editing the photo in post production is all about creating the image that we saw in our minds eye.

  6. Carl D says:

    Hey Guy,

    The difference, of course, is that a photograph requires a ‘real’ subject/s. I can write a story about some thing, or some place or event, or some person, that exists nowhere other than my mind. If I take a photograph, regardless of what post-shutter trickery you teach me, I still have to photograph some real thing – that subject does exist outside of my mind’s eye. A large part of the inherent power of photography, in my opinion, is embedded in this reality.

    I might not be able to offer instructions on where a good place to draw the line might be, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a line there.

    Maybe there is some truth in art – and there should be. I’d suggest perhaps that if there’s no truth in art, then there’s no truth; and a world with no truth is no world at all.