We all love sunsets

How we consider a sun setting in the evening sky to be beautiful, to prompt a running-to-get-our-camera moment relies upon history and context and acculturation alongside our own neurological pathway-building influence of what we think of as beautiful “automatically” – how we have become seemingly auto-responsive to, and, yet, at the same time, have learned through our cumulative viewing experiences to love symmetry, contrasting colors, movement in space, Pythagoras’s triangles, harmonic structures and post and lintel construction.  It is both ingrained and learned. 

We all love sunsets for their colors, their striking visual display regardless of ever having been taught about color or striking visual displays.  But we also love sunsets because we have seen so many sunsets taken out of the flow of the everyday and ordinary to become something stand-alone beautiful, something shown to us over and over as an example of something beautiful to look at, to take in, to mystically observe and urge us to consider this one section of the whole sky at this particular time of the day.  Cameras are summoned to record these visual displays as our culturally-formed reflexes are reinforced. Is it merely the sharp color contrasts that move us, their fleeting duration, or is there something more meaningful in connecting the setting of the sun with the ending of a day which exists no longer, just as the colors diminish before us? Is this the connection we are making (one of the symbolic rather than the mere signifying?) with the sky’s colors and our own lives diminished by one more day?

We have learned to frame things in our minds, adjust our inner palettes to appreciate the sliver from the vastness, for the whole is far too great; the required rules of symmetry and soothing color shifts all help in the creation of the beautiful.  A harsh light stressing our retinal retention capacity is not seen as beautiful; but place the very same light in the sky at a distance, give it some capacity for dispersing itself gently and we somehow find in it, beauty. 

Perspective shifts of common elements aim for the beautiful; the context then, serving to administer the qualities needed to experience it.  One single flower growing out of a cement block in an otherwise gray drab slab of concrete appears to us beautiful despite its contextual reality – its place out-of-place, its natural reality far more harsh and unforgiving (does it live as if well-tethered in rich soil and ample water?) than if set within a field of anonymity and likeness and same.  Is it the contrast, then, the context of this which determines the experiencing of the beautiful?  Is it the “framing of” that again is required for us to even notice?

This all leads to the artist and the art created for us to look at.  The response to something visually beautiful is simply our natural inclination mixed with a continued repetition of having noted such things over and over in order for them to impress upon us some sort of ingrained survival mode which, if beneficial to us, if strong enough to last, will have proven itself valid and necessary simply by the virtue of its lasting; its capitulation due to such repetition -like the worn-out comfort of an armchair after decades of daily use.  The artist need not be mired in the questioning of what is beautiful, for by the very virtue of the artist’s “framing of” – selecting and setting apart for us to look at – this should all be resolved for the artist in the end — if the art is working. 

    Contemporary Photography’s Response to Digital

cmyk

Forget the illusions of Surrealism and Realism and History Painting and Portrait Painting and Religious Painting and the Still-life.  There is nothing but the process here, the process of painting.

 

Like American painting of the 1940’s, Photography opens itself up to the gesture and visceral connections we (once) had with paint.  No illusion suffices when the darkroom magic no longer means anything, just as the representational after WWII proved meaningless.

When the photographer’s eye loses out to digital photography’s own technological magic, when any image, all images, made, taken, shown can be easily edited, cropped, and placed into any context, when this is the new norm, Photography readjusts.

 

The “eye” of the photographer – the ability to capture something from nature ‘as is’ – print full-frame – is no longer viable.  The prestige we once placed on the skill of the photographer’s eye has been replaced with the egalitarian ‘so can I’.  Photoshop toolbars are the new darkroom and access to it all exists no matter what level or claim.

 

The Everyman’s camera with digital grip on capturing every moment before us – because we can — must somehow be distanced from the art photographer working diligently at his/her craft.  Rather than a World War to diminish the significance of painting things from nature ……we have the ubiquity of Digital diluting the democratized pool of images we now all make with abandon.

 

It is no wonder that new work in Contemporary Photography is found returning to that of origin, and, with it, possibly, an aim for the retrieval of aura in the literally-pulled-from-the-negative; a move to discussing the process of Photography itself. The subject matter contemporary artists photograph now is imbued with the process of making one.  And, the subject matter photographed is likewise ensured of greater meaning because it is indeed, a (true) photo.  Artists photograph Photography now, leaving the task of recording sunsets and snapping in successive impulse the documenting of the everyday to the now incurable digital.

 

 

In the late 19th Century, Painting went through its own self-evaluative phase with the advent of the camera –its arrival on the scene challenging artists re-presenting likenesses on canvas.  If the camera can reproduce nature as it is, (and, much more directly) we painters must give the Nature we aim to imitate with our brushes and canvas another angle, another view.  Realistic portrayal is no longer the painter’s aim, but one of creating more of an impression of what we see (one which examines the Science of light and the study of refraction, saturation and hue) rather than what the artist has worked at for centuries to achieve.  The camera changes everything.

 

Today, Photography has been taken over by the dpi pixelation of image —  computer-generated and electronically processed without any gestural, personal touch or hand in the making other than the holding-at-arm’s-length distance (no longer eye pressed tightly peering through the closeness of the camera’s lens) one of the many electronic devices we carry around without distinction, and then, the tapping of a few remote keys on a keyboard while awaiting the contrast-adjusted screen resolution’s response.

 

With digital technology we can paint photos, make photos look like paintings, scan photos and print them as if paintings, photos, or, maybe, if we wish, both.  (There is even an app that can make an image photographed look as though a painting by Thomas Hart Benton!) The origin of source is rejected for the contrivance of cut and paste and digital manipulation.  The advantage of the eye in seeing something unique in the real world is overwhelmed by the savvy nature of the digital screen’s editing options offered at the touch of a distanced keystroke.  Darkroom pools of chemicals and physical film emulsions dipped and swirled and submerged and pulled are all part of the mystical past printed in sepia-toned nostalgia.  The capturing of the observable taken by our clunky cameras and then preserved in a photograph has been replaced by the ease and facility and access and uniformity of technology’s latest picture-taking app.

 

What then, can the artist who works in Photography do to maintain a level of artistic creation, freshness, scholarship, expertise, and, add to the discipline by contributing to the evolution of Photography in offering commentary on this phenomenon through one’s art, one’s own photographic work?  How does the artist comment upon this digital world and its competing role?  Where are the Impressionists of today and what are they doing to unite past history and our current ‘taking of pictures’?

 

The photographer’s image will now, always be measured against the new paradigm, the digital world’s offering — (in both quantity and kind); the photograph no longer able to carry itself just by virtue of “its being”.  “Is that digitally created?” is the context all photography now faces.  It no longer matters if it looks one way or another.  It is now about the viewing of such a thing amidst – and, how it reads now that technology has diluted [in its own nonchemical solution] Photography’s very origin, process and meaning.

 

 

2017