“Postmodern photographic work in particular exploits and challenges both the objective and the subjective, the technological and the creative” (Hutcheon, 2003, p. 117).
In relation to my photographic practice, the objective is what is presented to the camera, or what the camera sees. The subjective is what I want the audience who will view my photographs to see – it’s the message contained within.
As a photographer, I rely upon the objectivity of my camera to reproduce accurately an image of the scene I have created. It is the ability of photography to be able to capture a true, iconic likeness of a constructed subject that is the “peculiar” nature of photography and which, arguably sets it apart from other forms of visual art.
My photographic work falls into two areas: commercial work and project work.
My commercial work is more objective, less subjective, and a more faithful representation of the subject aimed at portraying how a recipe should look when prepared, or persuading customers to make purchases in cafeterias or restaurants. Clients expect that this type of work will have documentary value.
In terms of my project, work consists of constructed images, incrementally developed over time, which have an aesthetic appeal but also carry a message. Using Wall’s terminology, these are “farmed” images (Wall as cited in Horne, 2012).
So, how do the “technological” and the “creative” relate to each other?
Familiarity with my camera is important in my work. Practicing with my camera enables a degree of proficiency which, in real terms, means I don’t have to think about using the camera which, in turn, allows my work to flow intuitively. This provides a balance between the “technological” and the “creative” because there are, as Hutcheon suggests, fundamental links between the technological and the objective, and the creative and the subjective.
‘It was asked whether photography could be art or not. The camera is a machine, and the machine has no spirit, so photography makes machine-made paintings’ (Sugimoto as cited in Cue, 2016).
This quote, for me at least, seems to deny photography of a fundamental quality – it’s ability to be indexical whilst also having aesthetic appeal. It also appears to deny any credit to the photographer who provides the “spirit” to which Sugimoto refers.
This seems in contrast with his description of having witnessed a sunset:
“In late spring 1982, I watched from a cliff in Newfoundland as a beautiful sunset coincided with a full moon rise in the eastern sky. Standing up there in the crisp air, I felt like a figure in a Caspar David Friedrich painting; for the first time in years I was overcome by an out-of-body experience. I was far above from the earth’s surface gazing at the moon adrift over the sea, while another me ― a tiny speck ― remained spellbound on the ground.”
Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1982. North Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland
The three photographs which follow are representative examples of photographers who have successfully married the technological with the creative: blending the “mechanical”, objective aspect provided by the photographic equipment with the subjectivity of the photographer’s vision.
American photographer David Hilliard constructs images, typically a triptych, using photographs of the same scene taken from different angle in order to add a dimension of time and span the gap between fact and fiction. It is the added dimension of time, something which is normally excluded from photographs, that I find particularly interesting.
David Hilliard, 1994. My Father’s Shirt
Christina de Middel’s project “Afronauts” used fictional photographs to narrate the story of the 1964 Zambian Space Programme.
Christina de Middel, 2012. Afronauts
Carl Warner’s “foodscapes” see him produce fantastical images constructed entirely of food.
Carl Warner, Date unknown. Candy Cottage
We have looked at the relationship between the technological and the creative. Is this affected by the context in which images are viewed?
Shore suggests that “the context in which a photograph is seen effects the meaning a viewer draws from it” (Shore, 1998, p. 26). Barker goes on to say: “All meanings depend on other meanings” (Barker, 2008, p. 482).
The viewing context informs how the image is made. There is an “assumed textual and visual lexicon” which is cumulative over time: the images we see, the things we hear, all the things we experience shape the way in which we perceive images.
Photographers make decisions about the images they take: how to frame the subject, what to include in the frame and what to exclude, what depth of field to use, etc. In the same way, viewer’s make decisions about how to interpret an image. There is a link between the “subjective” creative view of the photographer and the implicit content of an image. The more implicit an image’s content, the more open to interpretation by the viewer an image is. Critical thinking and visual literacy also play a part in the interpretation of images, in effect allowing image makers and viewers to communicate in a shared language. As mentioned in previous discussions, the language needed to evaluate photographs need not be unique to photography, barring technical aspects, the language used to describe and interrogate other forms of visual communication is quite adequate.
This is important, and relevant, to me because it determines how I make my images – the images have to meet audience expectations. In my case, as discussed earlier, the audiences for my commercial work and my project work will be different and will have different requirements. Consequently, I have to balance being overly explicit and providing the viewer with too much information to the point that the image loses its point of interest, and assuming the viewer has a much greater visual literacy than is actually the case, leaving the hidden meaning beyond reach and the image consequently too open to interpretation.
It is worthy, perhaps, to mention that the way images are viewed is partly dependent on who is looking at the images. Photographers, I think, can fall into different categories: the technical and the artistic.
The technically biased, although appreciating the visual value of an image, may predominantly notice the technical qualities of an image first. On the other hand, the artistic might predominantly look first to the aesthetic qualities of an image, and any message that the image is trying to convey.
Barker, C. (2008) Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice London: Sage Publications Limited
Cué, E. (2016) “Interview with Hiroshi Sugimoto” in The Huffington Post (1 June 2016) [Online]. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elena-cue/interview-with-hiroshi-su_b_8924692.html [Accessed 9 February 2017]
Horne, R. (2012) “Holly Andres, “Farmer” of Photographs” in The Wall Street Journal (3 January 2012) [Online]. Available at: http://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2012/02/03/holly-andres-farmer-of-photographs/ [Accessed 9 February 2017]
Hutcheon, L. (2002) The Politics of Postmodernism London: Routledge
Shore, S. (1998) The Nature of Photographs Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press
Sugimoto, H. (1982) “Revolution”. Hiroshi Sugimoto [Online]. Available at: http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/revolution.html [Accessed 08 February 2017]