Monday, May 26, 2008

The subject often isn't important

click photo to enlarge
There seems to be an inverse correlation between the number of TV channels that we are able to view, and the quality of the programmes that are broadcast. I say "seems", because it probably isn't the case, it just feels like that! Unlimited air time has led to so much of it being filled with cheap, populist drivel that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the pieces of fruit in this doughy pudding. So, many people, including me, have pretty much given up trying.

This situation is, in some ways analogous with photography. The spread of digital cameras, combined with the rise of the internet, has led to an explosion in the number of photographs being taken, and the quantity available to be viewed. It sometimes seems that photography is becoming flooded with snaps, and that the more considered images of enthusiastic amateurs and dedicated professionals are being buried in this deluge. In fact, I think there are more good photographs being taken today than at any time since the invention of the camera; it's just that they're so much harder to find amongst the avalanche of images.

I get the feeling that as photography increases in popularity we are seeing a smaller proportion of shots that are thoughtfully produced, and more that are the result of a subject interest, hobby or technical fascination with photographic equipment. For example, bird photography has increased exponentially in recent years, cars feature much more heavily than formerly, macro shots of insects proliferate with the arrival of spring, and holiday shots burgeon across the warmer months. For many the interest in a photograph is inextricably linked to the subject that is depicted. That isn't a problem in itself, but it can limit photography to a supporting role in the pursuit of another pastime. So, this is a plea for people not to forget what painters discovered a few hundred years ago - in a good image the subject is often less important than the treatment it receives. Many of the still-life paintings that proliferated from the seventeenth century onwards are living proof that imagery, lighting, composition, colour, texture, contrast, etc are not only the tools of much art, but are often the end in itself, and the vases, flowers, fruit and skulls that are the nominal "subjects" are only convenient means to achieve this goal. If photography (and photographers) aspire to the status of art then this is a truth worth remembering.

I certainly don't claim today's photograph is art. However, it is a considered image in terms of composition, colour, light, contrast and materials. I processed the shot to achieve something of the feel of a pastel drawing. It was working on this still life featuring Viburnum opulus, apples and plums, that sparked the mangled thoughts set out above.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f16
Shutter Speed: 1/8
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off

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