Every now and then I come over a photograph where I think “this is perfect”. Some photos by Edward Weston, for example. When I then afterwards try to analyze why I reacted this way I realize that this has to do with a certain way to treat the photographic subject. What I also realize is that the approach is just opposite to mine. And that, I think, is worth a thought or two.
The “perfection” I mentioned springs mostly from the plasticity of forms in a photograph. Photography is a two-dimensional art. A photograph in which forms seem to have plasticity and a three-dimensional look is overcoming this limitation. If one analyses further how this 3-D-effect is achieved, lighting springs to mind. It is the fall-off of light on a form that induces this illusion of plasticity in a two-dimensional picture.
The photographs I mentioned all have in common that they have been made in a studio with controlled lighting. Controlled lighting means that the photographer can place light sources around the subject and thus decide how much and what kind of light hits the subject. In fact, many studio photographers are true masters of lighting.
In contrast, viewers of my photographs often comment on the graphical character of the pictures. Only recently a photographer visiting my ongoing exhibition couldn’t believe the prints were actually photographs and the charcoal-drawing-like effect was something created in camera, not on the computer.
The reason for this effect is, again, mostly lighting. As I mentioned in an earlier post I prefer even,”dull” lighting for my landscapes. And I love fog. A reason why many photographers try to avoid such lighting conditions outside is that they render the picture very flat. And while others abhor this, it is the this kind of lighting that attracts me most. I am not doing this quite consciously; it rather seems that lighting conditions that others would avoid greatly attract me.
Many of the photographers that excel in depiction of plasticity are interested in the human form. In this genre like in some of the photos by Edward Weston or Robert Mapplethorpe, the form is the subject of the photograph.
When I look at landscapes, the ink-splash paintings of the Chinese and Japanese masters are in the back of my head. It is this mental model that attracts me to dull light and seemingly flat rendering of scenes. And that is where I want to get at: every photographer has a mind-model when approaching a subject. This mind-model can be multi-faceted as a visual ideal and/or a way of thinking. And we can enjoy the thinking and views of others exactly because they are so different from our own. Diversity is fun! Therefore I don’t think it is a contradiction that I greatly admire the masters of plasticity, while in my own work I go in just the opposite direction.
But there is another thought: photography, despite its many technical limitations, has space and opportunity for very different approaches. One can go from three-dimensional effects to charcoal-drawing all within the same medium. It is this richness of expression that makes photography such a great medium. Let’s go and use it!