Photograph As Art

Central Valley (dark L) is on display at:

La Crosse County Administrative Center

212 N 6th Street La Crosse, WI

This is the Artist Statement

These photographs were made in the Art fashion. They are not Documentary, Street, Landscape, or other modes of photography, although they do borrow from those other areas of photographic intertest.

Having some interest in Art, I have read much about it, not just photographers like Stephen Shore, Todd Hido, and William Eggleston, but also painters, auteurs, architects, and musicians.

Art, first and foremost, is made out of compulsion. An artist must make art. It is immensely fulfilling and satisfying to lay paint, find the just right words or chords, or release the shutter, in this case. Art is practice, both in the law sense, and the football sense. Art involves lifelong studying; of the work of others, of tools and techniques, of the world.

Art has the result of communication. The interesting thing about this, is that what is communicated seems to be variable and completely subjective. A picture is not worth a thousand words, can barely be adequately described in words. Words can only rarely be adequately represented in pictures.

I decline to title my photographs or expand on the title of the body. The works meant something to me when I took them, and now when I look at them. They do have some commonalities, which should be obvious. They, hopefully, will mean something to you. And it will probably be something different for each individual. David Lynch believes that there should be some mystery, and I agree.

I will expand on how I make photographs. Stephen Shore points out that seeing happens in the mind, not the eye. My method is to put headphones in, and just walk with my camera. I study the world and things will stand out in my mind that need to be captured. Edward Hopper said he just wanted to paint sunlight on the side of a building. Sometimes, I am taking photographs of a sunbeam in my basement.

The challenge is to get the camera to accurately reproduce what my mind saw. My practice involves the goal of only taking one shot and having it work, or discarding it. The only adjustments I make in a computer are for the purposes of eliminating the technical differences between my camera lens and the lens of my eye.

On the Framing of a Scene

In the two dimensional visual arts the surrounding of an image is called frame and ground. It is of integral importance to the quality of the image. It may be the most important characteristic that turns a snapshot into a photograph.

What we are trying to achieve in a photograph, or a painting for that matter, is to open a view onto the world that shows a picture of a scene at a chosen moment in time. We want to do so in such a way that the edges of the image go unnoticed. When we stand and look at what's in front of us we don't notice the edges of our vision, our eye lashes, a bit of clothing that may be obscuring the scene. Our brain frames the scene so that we make a complete image in our mind that we can consume.

The two aspects of framing the scene artificially in a camera are the straightness of the cropping and what is included, or cut off, in the image. 

I feel when I look at a photograph that the straightness is the more important of these two. A photograph should be cropped to the horizon most of the time. We live in a world with horizon and most of the time are aware, subconsciously, of its position. When a photograph is cropped crookedly it is very noticeable that something is wrong. What exactly is wrong may not be apparent, but there is a sense that the image is not well made.

Cropping straight can be a challenge. The horizon may not be be visible in the image. We may take an image of a sloped scene or from a sloped scene. The distortion of the lens causes vertical lines to converge which can distract from the location of the horizon (this can be adjusted somewhat in modern digital editing software). My experience is that when I get the cropping just right, there is a bit of a mental click that the image has reached it's proper location.

I feel that the details that are cropped into or out of an image are less important, although when very carelessly done can be just as important as the straightness. In this case as well I believe that whether to leave something in or take it out feels somewhat obvious while looking at the image. The edge of an object that is of a strongly contrasting color or shape that just protrudes into the frame should be removed. Half of a car in a street scene where some bit of architecture behind or next to it is very dominant should be left in at the risk of removing some important aspect of the image.

There are clearly some types of images where the above doesn't hold true: abstracts, some still lifes, possibly fashion and nudes that are cropped dramatically for effect. I believe it holds true for the type of art photography in which I am trying to show you a window into the world I see. 

On Finding a Style

Years ago I was driving through Southwest Wisconsin and I drove by a couple of the very large wind turbines. The light was just right and they lit up in my mind because they needed to be photographed right then. Stephen Shore points out in _The Nature of Photographs_ that seeing happens in the mind not in the eyes. I had my camera with me, I was just starting out in photography, but I didn't stop. I thought, I'll come later, and I did. The light was wrong. The photos were OK, but forced. Not great. You can find thousands of photos like that on stock websites. I learned that I have to take the photograph I See right then because it will never happen again. I don't always do that, but I am no longer in the delusion that I can come back some other time and find that same image.

I ran across an article recently by some blogger that compared art photographers to painters. He claimed that since the camera takes whatever image is in front of it in a mechanical fashion that it was different from other kinds of art that require much practice and talent to develop. He thought that given the proper settings anyone could reproduce any given photograph. Therefore, it is important for an art photographer to develop their own style and vision in order to stand out from all the other photographers and avoid being a "camera operator".

I believe every photographers style comes through no matter what. I don't believe for a second that I could fool you into thinking one of my shots was made by William Eggleston or Minor White or Edward Weston. Sometimes what comes through is a lack of practice and knowledge and a sense of trying too hard.

The reasons I believe that are because found photographs can only be found once (so obviously studio stilllifes aren't subjected to light quality at any given time like natural light photographs are) based both on the quality of light and atmospheric conditions and the mind set of the artist. Because seeing happens in the mind, you do not see what I see, and would not make the same photograph I do.

The challenge is to know the camera and my mind and sense of sight well enough to be able to see a shot that transcends frame and ground and make the machine reproduce what my mind saw. Much like the painter, this takes years of practice and a deep passion, even compulsion. 

If I practice, study, and absolutely love, to the point of madness and beyond, my art the style and vision will naturally flow. 

Art Photography

There's a blue house with a turret on King Street, like 10th and King, and there's a heavy power cable running down the street there. I was driving west on King last night just after sunset and the gloaming light lit up the sheathing on the cable and backlit the house and it hit my and that was a photograph that needed to be made. And then I thing who really gives a shit about this scene? Monet made dozens, if not hundreds of images of the pond in his back yard, he probably had no idea we would care so much about his pond. That's what makes it art, the artist sees it and says "Wow! Look at this!", and probably really doesn't matter if anyone else cares or not. I think maybe artists are really just little kids inside saying "hey guys, hey guys look at this". Maybe that makes us mentally ill or something, but there's not much we can do about it I don't think. I didn't have a camera with me last night, and I know form experience I'll never see that particular image again. Look at art slowly and carefully.