After consuming great quantities of turkey, I thought perhaps its time to ruffle a few feathers and take a walk down a very lonely road. You see, I feel if you look hard and true, most times a photograph is extremely revealing, not only of the subject but also more importantly of the person who took the picture. Alternatively, photography at a certain level is also a place where many people can get very comfortable, lie a little or a lot, and reveal absolutely nothing. This too is very telling. It is a medium much like fashion that can portend a great deal but ultimately can signify nothing.
For me one of the problems with photography started with the strobe and the use of artificial light. With the use of artificial light, primarily strobes for still photography; one could create great amounts of instantaneous light anywhere, and remove themselves from the quirkiness and variety of natural light, which by its very nature has enormous limitations. Instead of working within these limitations photographers chose a constant light source that is true from minute to minute or perhaps even from year to year.
No longer did one have to deal with the lack of light or learn how to use these limitations to their advantage, or even have to wait for the right moment. Over the years photographers have chosen to move away from a natural light source in order to control the light. One could simply override these limitations by avoiding them altogether. Move away from a natural light source, control the light with something artificial and avoid dealing with a real world that has feelings, moods, and even rain.
Instead of becoming sensitive to the world you know, photographers in droves, like sheep abandoned their interplay with life and how it is revealed by the natural light at that particular moment for consistency, ease, and in many cases boredom.
Many photographers will choose this control and a modicum of success over the risk of failure, but they also have lost the promise of great reward.
In the end a photographer may feel they have achieved freedom by having the use of artificial light and its ability to cast its shadow on even the most mundane and darkest of corners. But have you gained more than you have lost? There is something wonderful about seeing a room or an interior place that is lit or unlit by natural light. One can only know the true spirit of a place by how it is illuminated naturally. This is a gift of God. A picture is a revelatory moment, which helps reveal a unique and sometimes special place at a particular moment in history.
Next came the seamless background to go along with the strobe. This is an enormous piece of paper or canvas, which helps avoid having to place a subject in context. It is a way of avoiding composition and dealing with the environment. I can hear all the arguments now. People have used backdrops forever; they have helped with long exposures, etc. Look at the work of Edward Weston or Irving Penn. They regularly used backdrops in their photographs. In the hands of a truly talented photographer perhaps this is fine. There is a particular reason or choice in their decision-making. It is not a default setting. For the mass of photographers the use of a backdrop is a shortcut. It is a way of looking good without too much risk. Take out your strobe and your seamless; use them in your pictures, and out pops a consistently good, professional picture that is utterly banal and many times boring. It generally reveals nothing.
On occasion if the subject being photographed is special, wonderful things can happen, but for the most part the use of artificial light and the seamless help the photographer hide behind a veneer of professionalism. But in this process nothing has been risked, nothing has been revealed and your mask is in tact, exposed only to those who care to look deeper.
And lastly, now comes Photoshop, which is changing photography from an interchange with life into a studio experience in one form or another. If you don’t like the background, change it. If you don’t like the expression, change it. Change everything. Change the colors, the light, the clothes, etc., until photography is on its merry mechanical way of being a form of illustration.
So photographers have slowly lost control under the guise of getting more. They have slowly given up the great gift of a meaningful and spiritual interchange with this glorious world, for consistency, ease, control, and most importantly a fear of failure.
All those appurtenances you have added to your toolbox so you would not fail have in fact failed you in the end. What has been lost is a way to succeed naturally. I am fearful some photographers have lost their way.
If you risk a great deal and you expose your hidden self by your experiences and your reaction to the world you encounter, you will be telling all those who care to look and listen the small truths that are hidden inside you.