Saturday, January 26, 2008

B&W Exhibit

Portland Head Lighthouse - Travis Lovell - Black and White large format
This was a photo I took of the Portland Head Lighthouse in Portland, Maine, last year while I was visiting the school in Rockport to see if I was still interested in attending there. I had a friend call me early on a Saturday morning to say he was driving up to Ogden to enter some images in a black & white imagery competition at the Eccles Community Art Center. He volunteered to take a print up if I wanted, I figured why not. Due to the short time frame, whatever I had already finished was what I could choose from. This is the image I entered, so I decided to post it and share some stories/philosophies about it.

I had a full day to kill, so I decided to drive the coast. Knowing the fame of the Portland Head Lighthouse, I decided to stop by. It was a flat gloomy day, so the light was kind of boring, but I decided to pull out the camera anyway. I wandered around for awhile to find the best angle. When I finally settled on a spot, I set up my camera and began to photograph. I had to straddle the chain link fence to get in the position I wanted. After I took a picture, I looked down and noticed that someone had scribbled "put camera here" with a little arrow on the fence railing. I noticed it because the arrow was pointing at the center post of my tripod.

I was now torn. Obviously, I was not the first to stand at this spot, so do I take the picture? Will it be bad or derivative simply due to the fact that somebody beat me to the punch. I decided to take some pictures anyways. Herein lies my dilemma: (That I leave open and do not provide an answer to.) the age old question about originality and creativity. So often a picture is pronounced good if it is shown in a way not seen before. So often I find people trying to be different for difference's sake because that is what they have heard qualifies as good.

I have never seen harm in taking a picture of something that has already been photographed, even if it is from the same spot. I have seen many photographers who will return to the same spot trying to capture something that they missed previously or to create something dramatically different despite its location being identical. Another variation on rephotographing a subject would be Mark Klett (*one of his images posted below) and his Yosemite in Time book where he went back and attempted to take photographs from the same spot at the same time of year and day of famous images by Ansel Adams, Edward Muybridge, Carlton Watkins, and others. Klett then took these images and created fascinating juxtapositions of then and now.

I find irony that in music if someone 'covers' a song, it is completely acceptable and often considered a tribute, in photography it is redundant and uncreative. (Unless you simply take a picture of someone else's photograph, then it is ok and creative, aka Richard Prince.) In training for music one is encouraged to listen to and then try to emulate people you admire, in photography it has already been done and don't do it again. C.S. Lewis provided an interesting insight that he is surprised that people don't read books over and over again because they have already done it. But people eat the same meals over and over again because they tried it once and discovered that they liked it, so they choose to enjoy it again.

Photography operates on a different standard than the rest of the world. In basketball if someone disregards the rules to 'improve' the game then that person would not be allowed to play. Those who become good are those who understand the rules and improve themselves in relation to them, not the other way around. Certain aspects in academia encourage those in photography to disregard all they know and create something new, or to be original, or show me a new way of seeing, or recommendations along these same lines. Is this a strength of photography or a weakness?

I have often wondered if the masters we admired have not fully exhausted there visions. If they had 20 more creative years, would their work be considered redundant or would they extend their vision to levels that we have yet to deem possible? In other disciplines the practitioners are encouraged to stand on the shoulders of giants and then reach further. As artists we are encouraged to constantly reinvent even ourselves or we are destined to become obsolete. We profess to show people new ways of looking at the world, but when I look at the world and then at photography, I think we are more concerned with reinventing the world than in actually seeing the world. Is that why we are considered creative?


Ryan Muirhead said...

I think about this quite a bit especially as it relates to education. That is a doubly interesting dilemma for you to ponder as a teacher. If all that matters (and i'm not saying this is true) is re-inventing something then wouldn't you actually be doing someone a disservice by teaching them artistic fundamentals? or is that just so they know what to stray from? :) Interesting no doubt.

Unknown said...

Could you please start posting again, seriously it has been over a month........

kajsia mccoy said...

you are cool.

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