Design V. Documentation: “What Is Art?” and my problems with photography

Every society and culture that I am aware of, has garnered my awareness through their desire to be remembered. Those who want to disappear, persons or societies, often do so. But I believe that we can logically assume that most would like to leave some type of legacy or, at least, a dent in the wall somewhere to show they existed.

A classical studies professor I had at UBC once suggested the reason we have the ancient literature we do is because it was popular and mass produced thereby greatly increasing its chances of surviving the ages. Does this mean that our society will be thought of as a society of Dan Brown readers and Justin Bieber fans? Well, truth be told, we are a society of Dan Brown readers and Justin Bieber fans, but we are also much much more. Unfortunately, that “much much more” is rarely as well documented as the other. When was the last time you saw major media outlets spend a week discussing the latest tattoo acquired by the lead cellist in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra?

So, my contribution to pot is documentation.

I review, promote, provide, and take pictures. But are the pictures art?

A lot of photojournalists have had their pictures declared “art”, won awards, etc… But are photographs always art? No. Where is the line? What is a good picture?

We (well anyone with a Facebook account) know what a bad picture looks like: over exposed, poorly framed, out of focus, poor use of subject… But what about a picture that is perfectly exposed, framed, focused, representing the subject as intended but the subject is a printing press you’re photographing for a technical manual? Is it art?

Another problem very evident in the world of Facebook and MySpace is the word “photographer”. I have owned cameras for over 20 years, but does the mere fact that I take pictures make me a photographer? According to a dictionary, yes. A quick glance through 99% of Facebook albums and the answer is “no”.

So let’s look at these:

Click me; I get bigger.

The Olympic torch bearer running through West Vancouver. I was prepared for him to arrive. I was able to run along side. I like this picture. If my flash had gone off, as I had intended it to, the picture would have been ruined. So… means, opportunity, and dumb luck. Am I a photographer yet?

Click me; I get bigger.

Serena Ryder, arguably the most famous person I have photographed. People see this pic and recognize her, see her. Is it well framed, exposed, focused? This was also the first time I was told by a stage manager that I had three songs to shoot before I had to pack it in. Other people were shooting pictures, flashes popping on their little palm cameras… The stage manager thought I was a professional: Three songs. No flash. Am I a photographer yet?

Click me; I get bigger.

Jeff Myrfield of The Stumbler’s Inn. I love to photograph these guys and have a lot more access to them than most. I like this pic. I was trying to take it. However, it is very dark. Jeff is backlit. To get this shot I needed to ramp up the ISO and got “noise”. I shot this with an f1.8 lens. If I had a lens with a bigger aperature, would this be a better photo? Could I have brought the ISO down and decreased the “noise”? As a non-professional, despite my desire, I can’t afford lenses that won’t eventually pay for themselves. Also, I’m asking a lot of questions about technical aspects of shooting. This time I had a plan, access, but wasn’t entirely sure if I was using my gear to the best of its abilities. Am I a photographer?

Click me; I get bigger.

Walking back from a live show, I stopped to take a picture of an escalator being repaired. As I turned, I saw this. Click. This picture led to this:

Click me; I get bigger.

This picture is an interesting one. It is the first time complete strangers have let me pose them so it is a step, for me personally, towards taking the kind of “people” pictures I’d like to. But this picture is also a big disappointment for me.

I shot it in black and white. I didn’t think to switch my camera back to standard. That graffiti is vivid and amazing. In this picture it is dull.

This picture isn’t in focus. I suck at manual focusing and the autofocus on my 50mm is sometimes worse. Plus, I’d been drinking, which is never conducive to focus… heh.

Here’s the thing. Could I have kept my subjects there while I changed lenses and reset my camera? A fun idea can become an imposition pretty quick sometimes.

Art cannot be dumb luck but dumb luck can contribute to art. Art is talent but cannot be restricted to only trained thought. Art is knowing your tools but not confined by them…

So what happens with a guy who just wants the world to know how cool his friends are and how much fun this city still has? I don’t know if I’m a photographer let alone an artist.


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