An absurdity called a photograph

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An absurdity called a photograph

Postby nirlep » Sat Sep 19, 2009 3:26 pm

A photograph has lived under the shadow of painting for more than a century. It’s value is judged, almost unanimously, by its comparison to the established art criticism of painting. Therefore, we speak of composition, mood, shades and hues and many times painting-like effect achieved in a picture. Not that anything is wrong with these attributes but I feel there is much more to a photograph than just these attributes. This would require going into the process of making or taking a picture in comparison to painting. Let’s take painting first. A painting is a process – and a rather long one at that and during that process the painter starts with a pre-visualization – refines it on the canvas by including some elements and excluding some. A deep thought process goes into the canvas stretched over days weeks or even months. It is a conscious effort allowing correctives at the sole will of the artist, the master of the universe that he or she creates on the canvas. The final painting may not indicate any of the processes which went into its making. The prolonged process fixes a painting for the artist fills gaps, resolves the unresolved, closes loose ends in order to present a coherent visual dialogue. The longer the process the more fixed it gets. All abstractions that there might have been in the mind of the artist find resolution through time spent on canvas and their mutation into meaning, however dense, is only inevitable. And because meaning is so deeply and comprehensively imbibed in the canvas, a painting is less open to interpretative modes. The very length of the process has assured that. A painting would invariable belong to a style, genre and of course a person.

Compare this now to a picture. Leaving aside some assignments where there is time for a photographer to pre-visualize, most of the photography work comes as a surprise to the photographer. There is a strong element of serendipity involved in this pursuit. A shutter release stamps the instant state of the photographer. And because the instant is not evolved at all, it is terribly alone, cut off from the continuum of life which we inhabit. This slice of time has no meaning. It is an absurdity to be more extreme for nothing in real world exists bearing resemblance to it. The absolute un-meaning is the value of a picture. The pictorial is a façade. The picture lies elsewhere, in contrast to a painting which lies ‘there’.

In the process of capturing moments the photographer becomes a strange attractor of moments. Each one of us must have had several occasions when in the process of making a picture the moment has travelled into the frame inadvertently, unannounced and silent. The visual alertness of the photographer instantly translates that moment into an element of composition thus transforming activity into an event. In a way this “instanted’ reality exceeds the real, becoming hyper-real, surreal – to which the viewer gravitates without pretention because the picture too has none. The picture does not challenge, it invites. It is a welcome sign in the world of exodus and exile.; a metaphor in the world of meanings.

A photograph has no edges. The excluded always follows it as an estranged absence. The process of framing a picture only closes its aesthetics boundary but visual borders are open for interpretation and travel. (It will be interesting to see photograph framed in a manner not declaring its aesthetic boundaries).

A moment is so strong a part of the picture that thinking of the pictorial without consideration of its momentousness is an anomaly (in fact momentousness itself exists as an anamoly). Of course there would be pictures which were meant to be pictorial representations alone such as scientific macro shots, close up studies of flora and fauna but majority of the pictures are pure visuals with elements suspended in a super dimensional time warp re-inaugurating the reality upon each blink of the eye. Like Sriharsha’s pixels of life series - especially where he has caught a bird in flight back dropped by a landscape; the bird representing a consciousness-lapse of the photographer, making him to click without interjection of thought or visual preparedness. This is seeing in its purest sense in which there is absolute severance of “I “ from the “eye”. Come to think of it, photography begins at “I” piece and ends at “eye” piece. Between this journey lies a process of unlearning and unleashing from the I, the process of seeing. Coming back to the Sri Harsha’s picture – it might have violated some hallowed canons of photography’s aesthetics but in spite of that it releases a song. It is so deeply nostalgic, at once placid and seething with activity, terribly lonesome, resounding with emptiness, a critique and explication of romance, journey, the ephemeral and the permanent. All this in just one un-guarded moment! Which is difficult to come by.

Colour, composition, value, mood accompany every picture which is taken. What sets apart one picture from the other is “that” moment in its relationship to everything around it. Beyond the pictorial the critique of a picture lies in exploring these relationships and linkages. The very act and speed of taking a picture ‘captures’ a moment in midflight, different strands of that activity are not allowed to mature into a sensible happening by the act of shutter release . These strands float about in the space of the frame defying our sensibilities as audacious anomalies amidst our structured stream of thought. Because the event is left in a state of incompleteness, the viewer’s scope of exercising discretion to interpret this still increases manifolds. Each one can just take one of the strands and extend that to his or her utopian universe where that event unfolds to the will of the viewer. A picture thus makes a viewer a moment-king.

A painter has lived with his work for a ling long time before it is set free to public gaze. The photographer does not have this opportunity. So the living with the picture has to begin with viewer, especially those who have the responsibility of critiquing it. The best way to critique an image is to take it home. Think of all the visual and non-visual emotions it evokes and thus reflect them onto the frame of your being looking for social, personal, metaphysical, mythical, historical, pictorial, political analogues. After you have truly felt you felt you felt- language is the easiest part – just let words roll. Don’t hesitate in saying ‘awesome’ in more number of words. Because it’s the words that complete the picture. The photographer just left it there as a subtle cue.

Nirlep Singh
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Re: An absurdity called a photograph

Postby Ganesh H Shankar » Sun Sep 20, 2009 9:36 am

Your expressions be it in the form of images or words amazes me Nirlep. This one is no exception. Let me see whether I can add a few words..

Very true. Historically photography persued as an art form received step-mother treatment thanks to duplication attribute of it in my view.
In fact the argument on "Is photography an art as much as painting is ?" still lives and only photographers seem to have an answer in affirmative :)
It is still being considered as a tool to duplicate something infront of us. Further there can't be a consensus on what art is and we photographers
too agree that all photographs doesn't qualify to called art. Similarly every painting may not be an art. I remember reading an article by Niall Benvie
where he mentioned someone made an exact duplicate of his owl image by painting and sold it as an art work !!

I agree with your thoughts on long creation process involved in painting vs. photography. However when it comes to visual evaluation
I am not surprised if similar metrics are deployed for evaluation of both. I am of the opinion that process of making similar visual forms (photograph and painting in this case) should not influence the way of measuring it since eyes and mind seem deal with them in similar way. I think the challenge of persuing photography as an art form being "instant creation" abilities. Often image interpretations may be after thoughts but less of them in those instant creations make more powerful artistic expressions - easier said than done however.
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Re: An absurdity called a photograph

Postby Ghanshyam Savani » Fri Feb 24, 2017 8:35 pm

Everything Beautiful Is Absurd

Everything beautiful is absurd. Joy is one of those experiences which are not utilitarian. Love, peace, enlightenment - all are absurd, absurd in the sense that there is no meaning beyond themselves.

Their meaning is intrinsic.

I am reminded of Picasso. He was painting.... For almost two hours a man was standing behind him, watching; he could not figure out what the painting was, what the meaning was. Finally, he could not resist the temptation of asking Picasso.

Picasso looked at him and said, "This is something! I was really going to ask you, because you have been watching for two hours: perhaps you may have found the meaning. I was so much engaged in painting, so much into it - I was not there, only painting was happening. So I was hoping that perhaps you might be able to say to me what is the meaning of it all. As far as I am concerned, just painting it has been such a joyous experience - now no other reward is needed."

And one thing more he said. "You ask me what is the meaning of this painting, but you never ask these flowers what is their meaning. You never ask the sun, you never ask the moon, you never ask the whole sky full of stars what is the meaning. Why do you torture a poor painter? If the whole existence can remain without explaining what its meaning is, can't my small painting also remain without meaning? One thing I can say, it is tremendously beautiful."

The man said, "That's right, it is attractive, it is beautiful; but a thing without meaning is absurd."

Picasso said, "Exactly. It is not a commodity. In the marketplace everything has a meaning. It is a commodity, it is for some utilitarian purpose. But life is not just the marketplace, and it is good that it is not so. In life there are a few things which are utterly meaningless, yet absolutely fulfilling.

"This painting is absurd. It is so absurd that I cannot figure out how I am going to hang it in my house - which way is going to be up, which way is going to be down. I cannot figure it out. If you can help - because you have been observing for two hours... how should I hang it?"

The man said, "You are mad! You are painting it, and you don't know how to hang it?"

Picasso said, "I am mad, you are not - that's why I am asking you."

The man tried in all possible ways - there are only four possible ways to hang it. It was beautiful each way. The man said to Picasso, "You and your painting will drive me crazy! It was stupid of me to stand here and waste time. And this is as crazy as you are, because you can hang it any way and it looks right."
Picasso said, "That's the beauty of it!"

But beauty is absurd. Joy is absurd. Laughter is absurd. Collect as many absurdities in your life as possible. People collect strange things - postal stamps.... Collect absurdities; and the more absurdities you have, the richer you are. The world may think you are a little off the track, but that is their problem; you are enjoying it.
In small things you can find joy. But if you are looking for meaning, then even in the greatest experiences you will not find meaning. Meaning is a mind interpretation. And all that is beautiful, loving, ecstatic, is something of the heart.

And the head can never understand the heart: there is no communication line between the two.

It is the head that asks the meaning. It is the heart that asks for joyful experiences, for ecstatic experiences, but it never asks about their meaning.
Put your head aside and try to look at life from the heart. You will find it so glorious, so infinitely luminous that you will not be able to conceive how you have been missing, how much you have been missing. And that will explain why you are miserable, why you are in anxiety, why you are always sad.

It is as if somebody is trying to listen to music through the eyes - he will not hear anything. He will say, "I want to see the music." But you cannot see the music, you can only hear it. It is better if you close your eyes and open your ears.

Meaning is of the head, and if you go on searching through the head you will come to the same conclusions as Jean-Paul Sartre and other existentialist philosophers. They say, "Life is meaningless. The only thing worth doing is committing suicide, because why go on living a meaningless life?"

Life is certainly meaningless, but tremendously joyful, hilarious... a dance, a song, a beauty. But you will have to change your gears from the head to the heart.
Look at small children - how excited they are in your bored world! You are sitting there completely bored, and your child is so excited. And you think you are right and the child is a fool. He does not know anything about life, that's why he is so excited about any absurd thing - butterflies, flowers, colored stones, seashells, anything! And you can't see any meaning in them. But the child is right, you are wrong.

The criterion is boredom: who is bored? Whoever is bored is wrong. Whoever is dancing, singing, having a good belly laughter is right! But one has to change. It is not a very big change - your heart and your head are not very far away, maybe a few inches. And the heart is closer to you, closer to your being; the head is the farthest from your being. But the whole programming going on is to avoid the heart and join your being directly with the head. That's what your schools, colleges, universities, are doing.

The heart has no function in your education - naturally, your life is a misery. A true education will be basically the education of the heart. It will make you more innocent, more childlike, more excited and ecstatic about small things. Then each moment becomes luminous.

And what are you going to do with meaning? Even if there is meaning in something, what are you going to do with meaning? The real thing is experiencing.
So it is perfectly good to accept joy, laughter, without any reason - the way you accept your health.

Are you ever worried when you are healthy, wondering: Why am I healthy? Do you go to the doctor, tremendously concerned and worried, and say, "Doctor, for seven days I have been healthy; something seems to be wrong"? No, health is natural; it need not be diagnosed, analyzed, it has to be lived.

Excerpted From the Book: From Bondage to Freedom
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