Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Opinion: In Service of the Poem (Image)

I have an MFA, not in photography, but in poetry. In the MFA poetry program, we were taught that “what really happened” is not the first concern of the poem. The first concern of the poem is poetry, is image, surprise, discovery, beauty and truth. “What really happened,” Richard Hugo says, is the Triggering Town for the poem, the jumping off place for exploration and discovery.

I would like to suggest that in a sense, the same is true of photography. If photography is a fine art, and I believe it is or can be, then we have choices. We can do our best to portray what was there (documentary art), or we can make fine art. If the choice is to make fine art, it can still represent what we saw, but it doesn’t have to represent it as precisely as documentary art.

For example, if it was a dark drab dreary day, we can cheer it up, or make it even darker. We can isolate single flowers from a group or make a group where there was only one. We all know this, of course, using flood filters and buzz to make art from documents. I wanted to bring it up because I have noted some people preserving what was even when what could be might possibly be much better. Truth can be found, I believe, in art even if it differs somewhat from "reality."

Additionally, what is beautiful to the eye in person is not necessarily beautiful to the camera or to the eye of the viewer of the finished photo. The camera sees differently than the eye. It doesn’t edit, for one thing, the way the mind behind the eye behind the camera edits, removing sticks, spots, distracting detail and clutter, for example. And it inserts its own issues of exposure, unintentional camera movement, and so on. So we have to be extra vigilant to capture and reclaim our vision for the photo and not just record what was there. Unless we’re doing documentary photography, which is (can be) an art—a different, overlapping and equally challenging art.

When we SEE (truly see, envision) an image, before we take it, there is some element of magic that catches our eye, something that resonates. The object then is to capture that magic, the resonance and not simply what is there. It is hard for me, very hard, but I try not to let what is there stand in the way of and shadow the magc. Of course, I'm rarely successful at this, but it's my goal.


Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I would be happy to dialogue on this topic (and I am willing to change my opinion if someone points out the error of my ways!!!) Just leave a comment here or post a reply on the blog. Thanks, Mary :-)

Sheesh said...

No I agree with you. And Mary you are very good with words! :)

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Thanks, Sheesh, I appreciate that. I like the idea of having a dialogue. Of exploring facets of this art.