For a long time I didnt know what to say when confronted by people asking me if my work was real, if I manipulated the colors, or if I changed something in the scenes I photographed. In fact, as a fledging artist unsure of where I stood, I felt threatened by these questions and was more concerned with defending myself than with anything else.
I also thought that doing all this would help in regards to selling my work. I believed that I could change peoples mind and that once this was achieved they would buy my photographs. What I discovered was how many people have their minds made up and dont want to be bothered by the facts. I also discovered that people who do not believe what you say, or who do not like what you do, will not buy your work. After all, I am selling art. And to buy art, someone has to like the work and often like the artist as well. When people dont like one or the other, or worse dont like either, trying to make a sale is not just futile, it is delusional.
In 1922, in a letter to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, Marcel Duchampdeclared: 'You know exactly how I feel about photography. I would like to seeit make people despise painting until something else will make photographyunbearable.' Today the camera seems more firmly embedded in visual culturethan ever; every mundane event or passing sight instantly captured andshared in an age of 'smartphones' and social networking sites. The ubiquityof the photographic image has perhaps created an oppressive presence ineveryday life. The colonisation of every aspect of life by photography is not arecent development; however the invention of photography in the late 1830squickly led to a dramatic increase in the production and circulation of images.
Photography has been seen as a documentary tool, allowing for realisticdepictions of the world, and as a creative practice, now a central mediumwithin the fine arts. The interchange between these opposing views of themedium factual and imaginative, everyday life and 'high' culture hascreated a rich field of image production.
It's true that photo essays are one of the cores of photojournalism, but they're relevant in a lot of other ways, too—to document your family, the place where you live or work, or the business that your company conducts.
My goal is to create images that represent the world not as it is, but as how I see it, how I feel when I am in a specific location and how I perceive this location as a whole. Not just the part that I see, but the part that I dont see: the melting sap of Pinion pines on a warm summer days; the call of a blackbird bouncing off a canyon wall; the heat waves floating in front of me over the bare sandstone; the multitude of sensory inputs that are, by nature, non-visual. After all, a photograph is nothing but something we can look at. Yet, the reality of the world is much more than that. We experience this reality through five senses: smell, touch, hearing, taste and finally sight. A photograph only makes use of the fifth sense. It is a partial perception of the world, representing at the most 1/5th of all that we sense. I wish those that argue that unaltered photographs can represent reality would understand that. But, as I explain, it is not in my power to change their mind. Therefore, I limit myself to just answering yes when they ask me questions about whether my work is manipulated or not. Of course my work is manipulated. How could it be otherwise? Only a fool would believe that it isnt. Yes.
Despite such accounts, the photograph's distance from reality canbe seen from its distortions of time and space; its two-dimensionality; itsselection and omission of objects through the framing of the camera's lens;the frequent absence of colour; and its stillness. However, despite these features, photography has been seen to have a necessary link with reality.
To some extent, my goal is to include in my photographs as much of what we perceive with these other four senses as is possible to include in a two dimensional medium. It is also to transform the world from what it actually is to what I wish it was. For example, I may photograph a depressing yet otherwise beautiful scene, and if all it takes is remove the houses that mar this scene, or brighten the colors, for this photograph to bring joy to my heart instead of sadness, then I will unashamedly do so, regardless of what others might think. If someone wants a depressing photograph, or a photograph in which all the houses that mar the hills in an otherwise beautiful location are present, I know for a fact that there are countless photographers out there, and that one, if not several of them, will either have exactly what these people want or will be willing to create exactly what they want.
Bringing a conclusion to this essay is difficult. On the one hand, there is a lot more to say on the subject. On the other hand, some may argue that such an essay should never be written. The first position is correct the second one is incorrect. There is a lot more to be said on this subject, and this essay does need to be written because finding the proper answer to these questions is very difficult. As I said at the beginning, if you are a photographer and you show your work to other people, regardless of whether you sell your work or not, you will be asked these questions. If you havent yet, you eventually will. It is only a matter of time. As the popular statement goes: it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.
One way in which the meaning of the photograph is fixed and madeclear is through the use of the caption. Walter Benjamin described thecaption as an imperative directive to photographic meaning that createdsignposts for the viewer. Another paired set of images, Incident, 1993 andBorder Incident, 1994, by the Irish artist Willie Doherty, demonstrates theway our understanding of photographs is informed by the context in whichthey are viewed and how language supplements the image in the form oftitle and/or caption. Both images are large, detailed, close-ups of burntoutcars abandoned in the landscape. The straight on camera angle in thephotographs adds to the sense that we are being presented with a factualdescription. Both works are given a political charge because of the use of thewords 'border' and 'incident' in the titles, immediately evoking the violenceof Northern Ireland's recent past and suggesting that we are looking at theaftermath of conflict. However, one of the two images depicts a car that hassimply been illegally dumped. Typically for Doherty's work the signpostsoffered by the titles misdirect rather than guide.
Technique, in other words, must be or become part of the work. It must not be just the path that lead to the creation of this artwork, it must be part of the artwork. To return to my main point in this essay, and to just saying when asked if my work is enhanced or manipulated, I must give this answer in order to tell my audience that it is my intention to make my technique visible. Indeed, I often emphasize my yes answer, by saying In writing, there is no other way to show this subtle difference besides placing an exclamation point after the yes, but in reality this slight change conveys my love and my passion for the work that I do and for my desire to share this with my audience.
When digital processes first became widespread in the 1990s, theywere seen by many to mark the end of any claims to photographic 'truth'.Rather than carry a physical memory of light falling on objects, digital images are reconstructions using binary code, and can therefore be seen as furtherremoved from reality. As we have seen, viewing photographs as a slice of the'real' has always been problematic, no matter what form they take.