““ The artist should never try to be popular. Rather the public should be more artistic”. ” The moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist.” ”
— Oscar Wilde
I have come across many who believe in an implied, unspoken agreement between an artist and the viewer in relation to photographs intended as art or any other form of expressionism. This belief that what they are viewing must be "real" to be of any photographic value, and it is to be the audience who should dictate on what the artist must conform too. But if an artist of any medium was to tailor there work to the audience's expectations, surely this would then deem there work as stagnate, no longer progressive?
The evolution of art and artistic expression are advancements brought about by those artists who defied and broke away from convention and traditions, approaching from new angles, creating new ways. Not always successful as failure is a part of the progression but when they are, they became game changers in their respective fields.
These implications between audience and creator are evident in many fields of work. It can be said that the media has an obligation to the public. This, to be truthful in their reporting, but as we all know, some of them, only offer biased, miss leading and sometimes complete out and out lies. We would be correct in wanting to believe the same off the police and judicial system, to treat everyone fairly and equally, but it has been proven many times in the past that there can be a significant biases in the likelihood of being arrested for certain crimes, be it racial, demographic or political and in the severity of penalties dealt by the courts. For us to blindly have trust in an implicit contract without any form of investigation can often lead to error and disappointment.
If the purpose of the photograph is to document and capture true to life events, then I can only completely agree that viewers have a justified assumption, an implicit contract with the photographer, that what is depicted before them is an honest and truthful representation of the facts, and certainly if these expectations are not met, viewers have every right to be upset and to feel like they have been deceived or even ripped off.
However, when it comes to photography as art, my belief is no such contract exists. There can be no justified expectation of truthful representation. This can not be an expression of the artist. Indeed, if all one could do with photography is to represent appearances as anyone else would see them, photography would be a decidedly-unsuitable medium for art.
Art is derived from “artificial.” By any formal definition, it is a product of human skill and imagination, but not defined by any other strict criteria. For something to be considered as art, skill and imagination are the necessary and sufficient conditions, but truthfulness, however you choose to define it, is not one of these conditions.
Where such an implicit contract is not honoured, the injured party has a legitimate reason to feel deceived. But to suppose there is an implicit contract when there are no grounds for such a contract to exist is foolish. or at least uninformed. This misinformation is more prevalent in photography( when described as an artistic), for a variety of reasons more than any other media. As a photographer who considers himself an artist, I wish to inform that such a contract should not be assumed for any photograph that I present to you as art.
We know how to apply different modes of appreciation to other media types with no confusion. Such as works of journalism com paired to works of fiction. Moviegoers can easily tell the difference between a documentary film and one of science fiction. So why can these same people not be encouraged to make the same distinctions when studying photographs. With such an educated view's, surely there will be less disappointment, and the rewards from the photography will be heightened. The fact that a fictional novel is not as truthful as an academic textbook does not make one better or of higher importance than the other, but instead comes different expectations and reward readers in different ways. Photography can cover a broad range of expression—both factual and expressive, but we should not persist in the belief that photographers are only “allowed” to use a small part of that range as it is not only detrimental to artistic expression but also is untenable. Photographs that do not represent “real” appearances are everywhere, no one who can change that. This is not a bad thing, embrace it and let us not pretend otherwise. With that said, I would like to discuss my own work, without the judgment of other people’s work and their morels. I would like to consider my images as visual journal entries. Images that describe real events or places, but do so in a subjective way. Not only do they express what happened, but hopefully how I was affected as the creator. The event and the feelings that were the source of inspiration are both true, but more than likely another person would probably have a different impression of the same event.
I don’t photograph to make documents or to commemorate events just because their appearance is attractive. I photograph to express moods inspired by encounters with things and places that I personally regarded as meaningful. I do not have too much reason to depart widely from the sources of inspiration, but I do apply a certain artistic licence in the way I choose to portray the scene, This is, of course, entirely subjective and not likely to correspond with what you would have seen or felt in the same situation.
An apparent stigma has been attached to photography, more so in the age of digital imaging, of “manipulation.” All art, if to be defined is a product of human skill and manipulation. A view occurring naturally or randomly presented without the application of human creativity, I feel is not art. What may not be obvious from this definition is that a photographer’s primary tool for manipulation is visual composition. The deliberate arrangement of the visual elements within the frame is the photographer applying his creativity to the piece. Choices such as perspective, what lens to use, matching weather and lighting conditions to the subject or scene visualized in the artist's mind, and others are all interpretations of the one scene. All such decisions and techniques are elemental to the photographic process and require no means other than a camera and lens, and all can be used to express things that are truthful and things that are not.
Processing your captured image is a secondary means of manipulation, and probably where the greatest misunderstanding arises. The term or expression "Photoshopped" instantly implies an untruth in what the viewer is seeing and I believe, instantly conveys a negative, demeaning outlook on the image. In my work, my purpose in applying processing tools is not solely an aesthetic appeal, but rather, to bring out the emotional effect I experienced and wish to convey in my images, with the ability to manipulate colours, textures, lines, etc. I do not portray these things as-is, but will either bring forward or push back those aspects of the photograph that I deem best fit my artistic expressive goal. By choice, I do not create images from arrangements that are not possible in a single photograph, but also I will not be limited by the technical limitations of my equipment.
These are my choices and ones I make to match my reasons and purpose in practising photography, and not because I feel bound by any obligations to others. Others may, and do, make different choices or have different purposes in photography. So long as such photographs are presented as art, no implicit contract can be assumed, because to do so is gullible and will almost always lead a viewer to incorrect assumptions.