Sunday, 6 December 2015

Taking Notes

On a quiet, late afternoon in December (what, already?), with rain threatening but not quite arriving, a simple view of a nowhere-in-particular corner of Southampton city centre offers a rich vista of subdued autumnal colours, against which the industrial reds and blues of some stray construction kit absolutely pop.  I love it...  This is what "straight" photography is for.  Can you imagine having the skill, patience, or inclination to paint this scene, and do it justice? (not necessarily a rhetorical question -- meet Peter Jarvis).

It's a form of instant note-taking, but one with such depth, such clarity, and exquisite accuracy.  See it; frame it; got it.  But it seems the question that nags at the back of the mind of many deprecators of photography (and, indeed, photographers) is that very instantaneity:  sure, you saw this, you made some choices, you were there, but have you really earned it?  It's a variant of the feelings that we might have towards inherited wealth or fraudulent success.  Too easy!  Where's the work?

Perhaps that's why so many old-skool photographers have so vehemently rejected the label of "artist".  Hey, don't hang that "artist" thing on me, I'm a photographer!  It is often these same old-skoolers who reject the form of work known, dismissively, as "manipulation" -- and often, by extension, all digital imaging -- because it undermines photography's One True Claim, its verisimilitude and veracity, untouched by human hand.  This seems a self-imposed lose-lose situation, to me, in which a photographic image must either be a truthful but facile mechanical capture ("I'm not a real artist"), or a lie that corrupts the medium's very essence ("You're not a real photographer").  This is bizarre, and I can't think of any other medium where the standards for judging its practitioners are so muddled up with the truth-telling standards (!) of journalism.  Novelists?  They're just making it up!  Absolutely zero source-checking! Theatre and film?  It's just actors pretending!  Painters?  Don't get  me started...

Just a few yards away, there is some glossy black-painted shuttering with a flimsy but locked doorway.  Again, this is why I carry a camera around (other "digital imaging devices" are available, of course).  Note-taking, again.  But, unlike the things I scribble down in my notebooks, these notes always go above and beyond whatever it is I have noticed: could anyone paint or sketch such a simple, nuanced, real-life mystery in a way that would add anything to it, and not subtract something essential from it?  Well, perhaps yes, but it's highly unlikely that anyone would ever bother to invest the necessary time, especially when on their way to buy socks in Marks & Spencer.  Neither would I, if I couldn't accomplish it in 1/125 second, and move on.  And if I didn't have half a mind to use it as raw material in some as yet non-existent, unplanned, composite visual lie.

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