Monday, 25 April 2011 07:36

Reality, Surrealism, Vision, Interpretation

This article appeared in “Professional Imagemaker” last year.

Photography is a relatively new artistic medium, counting in at just over 150 years; just a snippet of time in the history of art. However, during its short lifespan, it has gone through a crash course in artistic development. Being initially influenced by other fine arts, it has gone all the way through to influencing other visual arts in its own right.

The history of photography is rich and captivating, marked by challenges, obstacles, failures and triumphs. One thing, however, remained constant throughout – the struggle to bring to photography the recognition it deserves as an artform in its own right. The height of this endeavour took place around the turn of the 20th century, when traditional fine art itself was experiencing a revolution which would propel it into new directions. This revolution, triggered initially by the establishment of the Dada movement, which strived to deny all that were the traditional concepts of fine art, affected photography positively, due to the adoption of this new medium by major artists as a form of mutiny towards other forms.  This in itself triggered an experimental phase which brought photography into the picture as a medium that could produce, rather than just reproduce.

Indeed, this was, and probably still remains, the greatest struggle for photography – convincing society that there is a highly intricate creative process behind the creation of a photograph; that in fact a photograph is the interpretation of a subjective reality and not the portrayal of the absolute. It is no surprise that photography was the medium of choice of many Surrealists – the members of the artistic movement succeeding the Dada movement. Their main aim was to break down the links between the mind and reality, producing work which was a direct interpretation of their dreams and thoughts. One of the main contributors to the Surrealist movement, Man Ray, was particularly fond of the photographic medium, experimenting new techniques at length. His philosophy was one which has been adopted by many artists who followed: “I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence.”

Fast forward eighty years. While technology has advanced photography into new heights, the one thing which made photography the powerhouse it is today remains constant. The photographer’s eye has brought us into an era where the real and surreal meet and sometimes overlap, creating that niche which photography so much longed for. It is this overlap that earned photography its deserved place in the most prestigious art collections.

As a photographer I often ponder on what I would like to achieve through my photography. It is a constant exercise which I find very important to the production of my work. As I look back at the history of photography and art it clearly transpires that photographers, more than any other artist, cannot be judged by a single photograph, but by their life’s work and the concept behind their creations. If we look at the greatest names of 20th century photography such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams, to mention a few, we keep stumbling into patterns. These photographers did not just take photographs. They followed a vision, a concept which drove their life. Photography was their way of interpreting this vision.

It is this vision that makes a photographer more than just a person with a camera, and it is the ability to interpret this vision into images which move and transport the viewer that make that photographer stand out from the crowd and become great. How we interpret our vision is irrelevant. It is the vision itself that is relevant and the will and skill to bring that vision to light. As I develop as a photographer, it also becomes clearer that vision must be strived for. We are not born with a concept in mind – it is something that comes through a constant journey of self-discovery. This journey has only a beginning and no destination. Its path is only dictated by the next step.

My personal journey has until now taken me into a number of directions – architecture, street photography and abstract to mention a few. Each of these directions has been fuelled by curiosity, passion, belief and opinion. It is these convictions and traits that give artists the extra dimension that makes their work remarkable, and allows their vision to permeate onto the viewer. While artistic discovery is a very personal voyage, its final purpose is to externalise what is within the artist, and therefore shared with the world. Photography, I find, is an ideal medium to achieve this.  It is difficult to beat the feeling of being shown what is seen every day and not recognise it. Photography is the link between all this – no other artistic medium can claim such an intimate relationship with reality while holding control over its interpretation.