Here’s the Thing of it…

cirque du soleil, photograph

“Whereas the experiential focus of the sculpture, […] the collage, or the performance is the here and now, the experiential focus of the photograph is the there and then.”

Brooks Jensen

Another insightful contrast between photography and other art forms by Brooks Jensen. Maybe one reason I like him so much is that he spends a lot of time comparing and contrasting photography with other mediums in order to tease out the unique qualities, good or bad, of photography. I find myself doing the same, because I feel there are a lot of unique characteristics of photographs that make them occupy a singular place in the art world.

Jensen makes the point that when observing most art forms our main perceptive experience is the piece itself – we look at the painting, the sculpture, the dancer. With a photograph we tend to look through the actual physical artifact (such as a print) to the scene it depicts. He says the photograph acts as a window in ways other art forms generally do not.

One result is that the image we create as photographers can play a secondary role to the viewers experience. Jensen talks about ways photographers attempt to turn their work into an artifact rather than a window. Having spent a number of years painting, I often find myself missing something in my photographs that I found in my paintings. I think it is in part that the paintings were things that had a life of their own, that could exist independent of anything in the external world. My photographs have a more ephemeral existence, one that is derivative of what it is a picture of. Compared to my paintings, they lack a, existential thing-ness that is somehow satisfying, both to the artist and the observer.

So this could be thought of as a downside of photography and one may ask, why do that instead of paint (or something else)? I think each of us has a medium that matches our talents, aesthetics and interests best. I read an interesting explanation of this by fellow photographer (and painter) Diane Miller that I completely related to – she said that she was more pleased with the results of her photography, though perhaps less please with the process itself. I think I’m in this camp as well and feel that the results of my photography express my persona best.

But I’m sure at some point I’ll dip back into the paints, just to get my hands on all that thing-ness.

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