rose 25, photograph
“Vermeer found a life’s work in the corner of a room.”
– Irwin Greenberg
There are worlds within worlds.
One of my favorite short stories is The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges – an aleph is a point in space which contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion. A concept full of hope and potential.
As an artist you define the scope within which you create your work – it might be your room, your house, your town, country, etc. The physical scale of this boundary does not limit the reach of our exploration. It may feel that way at first, or at some point – you may want to believe that if you could just broaden our range, go to this or that interesting place, your work would jump to the next level.
It’s rarely true.
The solution is not to find a way out, but to find a way in. To enter the aleph.
rose 38, photograph
“And so you make your place in the world by making part of it – by contributing some new part to the set… Each new piece of your art enlarges our reality. The world is not yet done.”
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear
Many years ago I studied philosophy, actually got my college degree in that discipline. At some point I came to feel that something essential was missing from this pursuit – it was too involved with analyzing the world and too little with being in it.
My odd life trajectory next found me writing software for a living and, for the first time, I felt that I was making part of the world. I had to sit in front of a (metaphorical) blank piece of paper and compose. This felt better, I was more involved.
Then I moved into management and, oops, found myself once again more involved in talking about doing rather than actually doing. I learned again how empty that could be, so I walked away.
Then I became a photographer. Now I get to add my individual parts to the set, and each day I am reminded that the world is not yet done. Makes you want to get up each day, knowing there’s work to be done.
rose 1, photograph
“The point of art has never been to make something synonymous with life, however, but to make something of reduced complexity that is nonetheless analogous to life and that can thereby clarify it.”
– Robert Adams
I’ve been working my way through a couple of books of essays by Robert Adams – this quote comes from “Photographing Evil” in Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values. He is discussing whether photographers have as much right to “arrange life into a composition” as do painters.
This has been a controversial issue in photography since it’s beginning. There persists a prejudice out there that “arranging life” (a better phrase than the pejorative and dreaded “manipulation”) should not be allowed in much of photography. These days we have many more tools with which we can “arrange life” in our work, especially after the shot has been taken.
Adams’ point above is that any art form is not primarily about exactly representing life. Art, including photography, is always an abstraction of life. Here’s the definition of abstraction from Wikipedia:
Abstraction is the process or result of generalization by reducing the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, typically to retain only information which is relevant for a particular purpose.
By reducing information, we keep what is important for our purpose. What to include or exclude is a critical concern of artmaking, perhaps the most important.
John Barclay has an interesting post on his blog about the power of simplicity in photography that makes some interesting points about this. I suspect that the more we can “arrange life” in our work to make it simpler, yet with sufficient analogy to real life, the clearer our intention will be.