No New Label Necessary

| April 9, 2013

This secret spoke Life herself unto me: “Behold,” said she, “I am that which must ever surpass itself.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

I write these words on the edge of a storm. To the east, a wall of slate-grey sky is slowly making its way into the canyon country and toward Colorado; to the west the Mummy cliffs, adorned in new snow, glow red below a band of turquoise sky. Birds that seemed absent just moments ago are now chirping and fluttering around. The place morphs with the hours and the days. Another small storm is approaching beyond, and more transformations are in store. The only constant in this existence: change.

An off-hand remark in a recent email exchange had been on my mind this morning. A friend asked simply: “so, are you a B&W photographer now?” Hmm … I have a hard enough time with the confines of “photographer,” let alone narrower labels. It’s true, I had been making more B&W images as of late, but, is there a threshold? Is there a bell that rings after a certain amount of time had elapsed and necessitates re-categorization? Is it time to peel off the old label and slap on a new one or risk the dire consequences of falling victim to a filing error? Will the fabric of the cosmos fall apart if I decide to make another color image tomorrow?

The strange thing is that I did not, at any point, feel that I was doing anything different from what I had been doing for many years now: charting the waters of life; seeking experiences; being the author, narrator and protagonist of my journey; telling stories, evolving my skills of articulating them in words and images, color and B&W, whichever works best for a given situation.

There are, indeed, realms of art where consistency and tradition are valued. Still, there is a difference between sticking to a tradition and being stuck in it. Tradition should not be synonymous with stagnation. Tradition is, and always had been, building upon the accomplishments of the past, recognizing its less-glamorous aspects and moving beyond them. Progress toward greater knowledge, skill and enlightenment is the greatest tradition of all.

So, no, I’m not a B&W photographer now. I’m a human being, an artist, a teller of stories, who, sometimes, makes B&W images, and, sometimes, not.

Soothing Apparition

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Category: All Posts, Featured, 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.

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  1. Theresa says:

    Beautifully written and as always, your artwork is lovely, too.
    I think labels are what stifle creativity faster than any negative critique ever has, actually.

    While they DO serve a purpose, when labels become synonymous with one’s identity or “style”… the artist soon burns out.

  2. pj says:

    Amen… to both the post and the comment by Theresa.

  3. Lesli Cohan says:

    Thanks for this wonderful article – I believe that the only “label” that would be appropriate is artist, and good human being as you are. I did a blog on this a few weeks ago, and your words are along the same lines – we don’t need to put people into a box! Lose the labels and be free! Thanks for sharing.

  4. So true but yet so many insist on labels.

  5. Rafael Rojas says:

    Luckily, artists know that forgetting about tags is the first step to stop looking and start seeing, then feeling… Marketing gurus and journalists, however, will always have a hard time without them…

  6. Don’t fret, Guy. You might not be a b/w photographer now but, with hard work and dedication, it can be within your reach.

  7. Roger Raepple says:

    I had a psychiatrist uncle once that would frequently ask “Why did you do it that way?” as in “Why did you scramble your eggs rather than fry them?” As a teenager, it drove me “crazy” (his purpose perhaps?). So, if your work is more frequently now black and white, why? I think there is some important reason, be it momentary or permanent, that causes us to prefer one over the other but I don’t know what that reason is. Any ideas?

  8. You are what you are doing until you do something else ;->

  9. Michael Frye says:

    Very nice post Guy. With film, you have to make a decision about whether you’re going to work in black and white or color when you put a roll of film in the camera. Also, the darkroom skills required are very different for color and black and white. Consequently, in the past most photographers tended to stick with one medium or the other, and got labeled as either color photographers or black-and-white photographers. There were some photographers in the past who worked well in both mediums, but they were somewhat rare. Digital photography has made it much easier to switch from color to black and white, or vice versa, so the labels – always restrictive, as you point out so well – have even less meaning than before.