Sunday, January 12, 2014

Developing the image is the creative act

Much of the problem with understanding photography as an art is that the bulk of the discussion is about the wrong thing: it is not the technology used to freeze the moment that is the artistic endeavor. Instead, the artistic endeavor is developing the image to meet the purpose for which the artist made the image.

The problem with understanding this concept is the problem of the inappropriate place our modern science and society has given to consciousness. “Scientific” endeavor coupled with Puritan morals and values has resulted in giving credit and emphasis to those things we can measure, define, (allegedly) predict, and control. But those things are just a very small portion of our brains, and what goes on in our minds is only revealed to the consciousness in snippets that the mind deems relevant at any given point.

In photography, developing an image is the process of uncovering the creative impulse that led to the image being taken, and it is no different in photography than in any other art. In the context of photography, Cartier-Bresson wrote:
During the process of enlarging, it is essential to re-create the values and mood of the time the picture was taken; or even to modify the print so as to bring it into line with the intentions of the photographer at the moment he shot it. It is necessary also to re-establish the balance which the eye is continually establishing between light and shadow. And it is for these reasons that the final act of creating in photography takes place in the darkroom. 
The Mind’s Eye, at 39.

In the context of sculpture, Rodin describes his process in casting a form from a model:
As for me . . . I take from life the movements I observe, but it is not I who impose them. Even when a subject which I am working on compels me to ask a model for a certain fixed pose, I indicate it to him, but I carefully avoid touching him to place him in the position, for I will reproduce only what reality spontaneously offers me. I obey Nature in everything, and I never pretend to command her. My only ambition is to be servilely faithful to her. 

* * *
It would be impossible for any model to keep an animated pose during all the time that it would take to make a cast from it. But I keep in my mind the ensemble of the pose and I insist that the model shall conform to my memory of it. More than that, — the cast only reproduces the exterior; I reproduce, besides that, the spirit which is certainly also a part of nature. 
I see all the truth, and not only that of the outside. 
I accentuate the lines which best express the spiritual state that I interpret.
Art, Auguste Rodin, at 30-31.

Whether in developing a print or digital image, or making sculpture, the process is the same: to uncover what the artist’s mind perceived at the time the artist chose to make the work. Only by engaging in that process, and treating it as the revelation it is, can the artist hope to catch his consciousness up to what the mind already knew—and already created.