Saturday, May 18, 2013

Photographic Style

This from an article written by Michael Gregory. There is much more of the article but I would like to share this small but important bit:

“The word seeing is itself ambiguous in the very sense that the photographic style is ambiguous. That is, it means two distinct things at the same time. First, it means the recognition of an imageable scene, and the recording of that scene by photographic means. But seeing means, at the same time, something quite different. It means having insight; that is, intuitively understanding. And here we come to the real point, a valid basis for defining photographic style. It means having insight.

First we must ask “insight into what?” And “intuitively understand what” To answer these questions, we must consider what a photograph ultimately means. What a photograph communicates. The answer, I think, is that the photograph communicates the imcommunicable, that it means exactly itself—no less and no more, and that is enough. This is another way of saying that the photograph is a symbol of the experience, which unites photographer and object in a given recordable instant of meaning. It is important to understand that the photograph is not merely the recording of that experience, but rather its symbolic equivalent.

What do we mean by “symbolic equivalent?” The nearest definition I think is that which T.S. Eliot provided for poetry; that poetry is the ”objective correlative” of an experience which is in itself unverbaizable; beyond rational, logical language. The poem, Eliot says, is a kind of formula for the experience which, through it uses language, surpasses it, and enables the poet to communicate the incommunicable.

The same holds true, I would assert, for photography. How do we know when we are in the presence of a photograph which is a symbolic equivalent for an experience—a photograph possessing “style”? We know it by the quality of our response; the depth and intensity and unspeakableness of the emotional reaction we feel within us as we view the photograph. We can tell, too, by the uniqueness of that response. If we feel what we have never, in just the same way, before, we know we are confronting style. For style can never be cliché; these are the old, irreconcilable enemies. If we are viewing, les us say, the photograph of a forlorn child holding a torn and grimy doll and we say, “the poor thing!” we are in the presence of cliché, not style. If on the other hand, we say nothing and feel a strange and unique admixture of emotions to which the cliché exclamation would be blasphemy, we know that we are in the power of photographic style—the exact equivalent of an indescribable, memorable emotion response…

…I nevertheless conclude that a better definition of photographic style might be something like this: the recorded insight. This is probably no worse, and perhaps a little better, than most of the definitions we have. It nevertheless returns the emphasis where it belongs; out of the camera, away from the object, back into the very eye of the photographer.

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