As a Man Sees, so He Is

I borrowed this title from William Blake.  What does a photograph say about the photographer.  When a photographer makes a photograph, does he reveal a little of him, or herself?  Many photographers have chimed in on this topic over the years.  Here are a couple that made me think:

“Without the camera you see the world one way, with it, you see the world another way.  Through the lens you are composing, even dreaming, with that reality, as if through the camera you are synthesizing who you are” – Graziale Iturbide

Or:

“Great photography involves two main distortions:  Visual simplification and the seizing of the instant in time.  It’s this mixture of reality and unreality and the power and truth of the artist’s statement, that makes it possible for photography to be an art” – Roger Mayne

Whatever your preference, in some ways, we are talking about the holy grail of photography.  The so-called personal style.  The ability to make a photograph that is recognized immediately as being by you.  I once read that Frank Horvat, who is now in his 90s was accused of not having a ‘personal style’ and therefore was difficult to discern and identify as a master of the medium.  I would argue that Horvat has periods of personal style, which are fairly easily identifiable, but that the length of his career, going into seven decades now, has allowed him to move here and there on the style spectrum, sometimes making it hard to identify his work. 

I think deep down, most photographers would judge their life’s work as complete, if they could walk up to a relative newcomer in the photography world and that person were able to say that a particular photograph is by them.

Particular photographers have particular ways of composing their images, some have particular times of day that they work, usually early morning or just before sunset.  Some go after a particular subject matter time and time again.  Some print in a particular way.  Some overexpose, some underexpose.  I remember reading that Bernard Plossu said he only wants greys in his photographs.  I am quite sure Ray Metzker would argue against that, were he still alive.  Metzker favours a lot of intense and deep blacks. So many ways of seeing, so many photographers.  Such a broad and varied range of possibilities.

Photographers strive.  Few succeed.  With great passion come hope of maybe a little of the photographer’s personality seeping into every image and someone out there being able to discern your work from that of all others.  We live in hope.  At least some do.  Others are quite happy being forever anonymous and will argue that it is a mistake to do anything but document in a democratic coat of pure, neutral observation.  Ah, if only…..

Harbel        

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