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A Photographic Manifesto

Sure, it is bad news when you drop your digital camera with the zoom out, and kill it. But maybe the longer-term result can still be good. In the past I resisted rushing out to buy a new camera, and instead, took a vacation from dragging a camera along. The appetite will return after awhile.

Better yet, why not use the hiatus to reevaluate what you are trying to accomplish with a camera.  It is not as obvious as it first seems. It is a "nice" thing to have an excuse to pause on a mountain bike ride, and soak up an especially pretty little snack. 

These flowers caught my eye, the other day. The photo is mildly pretty, but I don't see what the viewer can get from this photo that they couldn't get from millions of other pretty photos already on the internet. And there will be more next year.

That prettiness is trivial and mostly useless does not make it EVIL. But it does mean the photographer hasn't gone as far as they could have. Notice that there is only one thing a little special about this photo: faint, not-so-pretty vegetation in the upper right corner. Its relationship to the three flowers suggests an idea. What do you think it is?

Perhaps the photographer should strive for a visual representation of an important idea about life. There is something tedious about verbosity that tries to express important ideas. It can easily devolve into a logomachy.  And there is something gratifying about metaphorical images and visual representations of that same idea. The miracle of condensation.

Whenever I am in the high country I look for a "vision" that always suggests something. Typically it appears far away, on a faint, ascending ridge-line. Many times the lighting is such that the single layer of trees seems to pull away from ridgeline as it climbs up to the sky. I always flutter my eyelashes at this sort of thing, but not because of trivial prettiness, but because it is a visual representation of one of the great issue in philosophy: the matter versus spirit conundrum.

A rationalist sees the word, spiritual, as a metaphysical fiction. But there is still a fetching idea in this second photograph: that matter alone doesn't explain everything. Surely a rationalist would not reduce the profession and art of architecture to so many tons of bricks and a certain number of sticks of lumber! It isn't just about "stuff." It is also about design and how the building functions for its users.

In physics there isn't just "mass." There is also motion and different types of energy.

In living creatures, there isn't just cells and tissue. If you would rather avoid the word, soul, then you must still admit the importance of the design/organization of the cells and tissue, their function, and interchanges of electrical and thermal energy.

I believe photography is a noble art if it seeks to provide visual representations of important ideas. Word-wranglers would be wise (and kind to the readers) if they integrated such photographs into their monstrously tedious verbiage. The viewer/reader would be helped by putting the visual representation right next to the verbal representation of the idea. Perhaps a short title should be given to the photograph, but it shouldn't turn into a long-winded caption. The readers' minds need to make the connection.


Wayne Wirs said…
I try to do this in my posts, create or pull from this week's photos one that serves as a metaphor for the text. I use the caption in the way you refer, trying to 'hint' the reader/viewer onto the metaphor. You can blatantly pull this off with stock photos, but using your own? It's not easy, and probably why it's so rarely done.
Wayne, I thought about you when I wrote this post.
Anonymous said…
You seem to discount the authenticity of photography unless it conveys an important idea. Aren’t you setting the expectation of “visual representation” rather high with that premise? Reading various RV and travel blogs, I see hundreds of photographs which are well-composed, beautifully representative of the topic at hand and treat my visual senses to a momentary rush without stimulating any “important ideas”.

I had hoped I wasn't too unkind about "ain't this perty?" type photographs. Personally I can easily get 0.75 to as much as 1.5 seconds of pleasure from looking at them. That's something.