When photography was invented, most of the art world held it to be a mechanical process or a craft useful for documenting the world, but certainly not art. It took little training to be able to produce a photograph, but certainly not the thousands of hours required to learn to paint well or play the piano beautifully. Even early photographers looked at their photos as chronicles of life but certainly not anything that they created as art. As photography and photographers began to realize what is possible with the medium, more and more critics began to think of photography as art, despite the fact that anyone with a few hours of instruction could make a photograph. Belatedly but thankfully, critics decided that the beauty of the medium should not be obscured by the craft of the photographic process.
This photographic process is exactly what photography holds as an advantage over all other artistic mediums. Essentially, light bouncing off of objects outside of the camera is gathered by the lens and focused in to points on a sensor or a sheet of film. This captures a two dimensional representation of whatever the photographer has decided to point the lens at. The reproductive aspect is my favorite thing about the photograph because it makes it more “true” than any other medium. In fact many painters, but most famously Vermeer, used a camera obscura to paint in a way that was more realistic. This attribute of photography and the relative ease with which a photo can be taken, make it the ideal art for families, friends and travelers to document time spent and later to help remind us of the memories that we otherwise may have forgotten.
I occasionally look at old photos of my parents who are no longer with us, and I am thankful that someone took the time to take a few snapshots of them because I see things in those photos that there is no way I could have otherwise remembered. In a non-posed picture of my Mom, looking directly into the camera, she appears thoughtful and melancholy but also has an earnestness about her. There is a photo of my Dad laughing and smiling lovingly at my being afraid of a horse we are standing about five feet away from. (I was four and now love horses.) These two photographs comparatively capture the essence of both of my parents.
I think back to a time in Colorado when I would try to hike at least once a week and I look at the crappy photos that I took in the harsh noon sunlight. With washed out skies and shadows blocked up and muddy these photos take me back to a feeling of solace I found 20 miles from anywhere. I love those crappy photos because it was me in that moment trying to capture the beauty of that moment. And those photos taught me to hunt for beauty everywhere. Gradually, I learned that beauty could be found in the mundane things around the house, or even in the ugly and oddly in the painful because all of these things are truthful. The dew on leaves in your backyard, the way the sun hits a glass of beer in a restaurant, oddly juxtaposed strangers on their way to work, you find yourself appreciating the world around you more and maybe most importantly, searching for beauty to capture.
This is why I take photography seriously. This is why I think its important to take photographs of all types, candid snapshots, semi-posed portraits, studio portraits, landscapes, streetscapes, details, each one gives us a different aspect of reality and while it cannot show us everything it can at least show us some truth about the subject. And through this truth we can learn to see the beauty that is all around us.