Brief Thoughts on Photography Today

by Brian Quillinan 23rd Feb 2016


We know too much about how pictures look…

Spending too much time searching through images for inspiration instead of absorbing life is a growing problem if the solution involves photographing life. Garry Winogrand spoke about his ethos of trying to get away from the kinds of pictures we already know too much about. “You don’t learn anything by repeating what you already know.” It seems social media has made us continually more aware of specific types of photograph. The more types we categorise in our mind the more we risk associating real moments with generic categories of photograph. This habit can end up dulling our perceptions towards the uniqueness of a moment. Life itself is the truest fascination, not just a repetition of sound geometric arrangements of elements like of umbrellas or shadows because its popular on-line to do that. That’s laziness. Its healthy to remember that when life itself excites the photographer that is a scent worth following.. not solely submitting to a set of predefined ideas designed to make photographing in a certain ‘style’ easier. For me one of the most overlooked comments in photography relates to this problem. “When I’m photographing I see life, I mean that’s all there is, its not a picture there in my viewfinder, you’re not a picture!”


Photograph from the gut..

Its an easy thing to say but digital photography in particular can lead us to habitually click quite aimlessly. We are surrounded by more information than any photographers in the past and to try to make a visual order of it requires something extra that has little to do with photographing itself. To have an opinion of the world today, develop a personal perspective on a community [local or global], awareness of self, interest in symbolism/visual language, among other things these are qualities quite capable of finding their way back into photographic expression unforced. Vocalising opinions can allow us to solidify their merits in our mind. Our gut response to a real life situation is affected by feelings related to what has been occupying our mind. Our gut reaction with a camera is meaningful if the response is towards something that evokes an instantaneous significant connection with our memories, our dreams; our distinct set of desires and fears. This quote from Lisette Model has made some photographers grumble if only cause its so on the button. “I am a passionate lover of the snapshot, because of all photographic images it comes closest to truth.”

BELGIUM. Knokke. From 'The Phone Book'. 2001.

Phoney photographs..

Smart phones are never far from reach these days but if for example we want to photograph critically of how we rely on them, it seems strange to do so knowing we too end up depending on the bloody things. Of course this idea of dealing with hypocrisy doesn’t just go for phones. Martin Parr uses his brand of witty dead pan British humour to deal with his subjects inadequacies which he believes he shares, it would seem. This humour is one way of dealing with inherent hypocrisy. In seeking greater authenticity in personal work there’s wisdom in an ability to accept and express personal vulnerabilities through it. No critic is perfect.


Forgetting the impatient audience..

Its evident that many of us are cycling through images as if searching for meaning itself. Collectively as the audience of photographs we need to be smarter than than just continually looking for a 5 second fix. For me its not just about being entertained for a few seconds but being taken somewhere new. Some images are quick like the punchline of a joke, and others more gradual in effect requiring thought like the solving of a mystery or interpreting a poem. I like to spend time with an image although very rarely you can have an image that contains the subtleties as well as the obvious cue. Its interesting also when the subtle can end up feeling profound, usually a long time after first seeing the image. William Eggleston’s contribution to photography probably being the most obvious example.


The pleasure is here and now..

The experience of the present moment is all that is really precious to us. It is our connection to everything. When people start to look at their phones when Bill Clinton rolls down the street I’m amazed with how easily they become transfixed on tiny pixelated screens over the immense richness of the world surrounding them. While the photographer’s preference is to record what is significant, the challenge is that this desire must not weaken the lure of life’s significant moments themselves. The idea of being free to live through a moment while the shutter happens to fire, this fascinates me no end. True expression isn’t made, it happens.

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