Sunday, September 26, 2010

Daily Practice 269/365

Title: "Favourite breakfast spot"
(click image to view larger)
Every morning from early spring to the start of fall, I have sat on this little settee on the porch of the studio building to eat breakfast. It is a lovely shaded spot where I can deeply breath in the fresh air, enjoy the sounds of birds, bees and squirrels going about their morning routines. I also take the opportunity to do some reading while I eat breakfast. As you can see from this image, I'm currently reading Gerry Badger's book of essays on photography. I took this image to document my love of this morning routine, which will have to be abandoned in the colder weather of the winter. During those colder, darker, wetter winter months, this image will be one of the talismans I use to look forward to spring.

This morning I was reading the following passage in Badger's book, in an essay about the American photographer John Gossage. "Is the great photographer characterized by a style? There is a presumption...that photographers who are artists rather than mere photographers distinguish themselves as such by exhibiting a marked style. Therefore there is a progressively distill one's vision, reducing the range of subject matter and its treatment until it can be claimed – usually by the gallerist – that so-and-so has developed an original and instantly recognizable style. Or are the really great photographers drawn from the ranks of those who reject visual style in favour of visual sensibility, those who recognize that the medium is profligate rather than reductive...Those accordingly who tend to put content before form...Great artists, great photographers, reach such a pinnacle because they do not follow the norm. They break the rules. They follow their instincts and convictions, not the herd and the smart money. But in my view at least, the best photographers come from the last category, those whose style and individuality emanates from deep within them, and is not...something grafted on from outside." Badger goes on to write: "Each clicking of the camera shutter should be a new adventure, an imaginative and appropriate response to a problem. Style in photography....should emanate from a particular response to a particular subject and a particular set of circumstances, acted upon by a particular sensibility." (Gerry Badger, "The Pleasures of Good Photographs", pp 89-90).
I find that Badger has hit on a number of key issues with making photographs. He does not dismiss style, but makes a distinction between the style that rises from within the photographer vs. the a stagnant, repetitious branding "style" that boxes a photographer into a very narrow range of subject and treatment. I also view each click of the shutter as a new adventure where my goal is to produce an image that is appropriate in style to the nature of the problem/subject before me. I find that my daily practice is expanding, rather than contracting, my range of subjects and photographic responses to them. One of the reasons I reduced my activities on Flickr came from a realization that I was starting to select images to post based how well they would generate comments from my "followers". This situation made me very uncomfortable, the idea that I would not share images that spoke to me personally very strongly because I knew the "market" would not be very receptive to them. I rebelled against this narrowing of my photographic activities, a rebellion made much easier because (a) getting comments on a site like flickr is a completely meaningless, arbitrary indication of "worth" and (b) I don't need to derive income from the sale of my art.

I wanted to end by pointing people to two photographer friends whose work on flickr very nicely illustrates Badger's thesis that internally driven work may or may not have a cohesive visual style, but is none the less recognizable as images made by the particular artist. The first example is the work of Jan Gates, who has a voracious interest in walking the neighbourhoods where she lives and documenting all that catches her eye. The work is strong in composition and its use of colour, and it is readily recognizable as her work. The second photographer is JM Golding, who has a deep personal connection to the landscape. Although on the surface the images have a very similar visual style, one can readily sense that this style is generated from deep within the artist, and is appropriate for what Golding wants to convey about the personal impact these landscapes have.

1 comment:

J. M. Golding said...

Paul, I'm honored!

And I've been similarly impressed by Jan's wonderful use of color.

What an interesting discussion of artistic style! It makes sense that style should consist of what is personally meaningful to the artist, the ways that each photographer reacts to/connects with a specific subject under specific conditions (including the photographer's emotional state in that moment). As a result, each photographer's individuality, in all its richness and wholeness, is seen as part of his or her work, or style.

It seems to me that your and Badger's definition opens up the possibility for each of us to be all that we are - how wonderful! It's simultaneously freeing and grounding.

I like your winter talisman very much, and your making and posting it challenges me to put words to my understanding of the emotional meaning of creative work. Maybe one way to say it is that the act of creating transforms our internal emotional landscape.