Narrative By Any Other Name
Part of photography's freedom to express itself today comes from century-old innovations in other visual arts including expressionism and so on. So this blog post starts with that art history, links to this digital era, and is organized as follows:
Photography set painters free
Photography has always been an abstraction
Recently we've been enjoying the radical loosening of photography's self-limiting identity with photorealism. And there's art history on that too. I remember the thoughts [but not the name] of one photography critic who argued that all photography has always been an abstraction:
Beyond photography's historic snapshot genre
Today things are truly radical regarding photography's freedom. Combine all the above with the ubiquity of digital snapshots, auto-editing apps, and free internet publication, and you get a world of photography that has become a super-mash-up of stuff, including some artful accidents. This has gone way beyond photography's historic snapshot genre.
Digital image processing [DIP]
With digital image processing [DIP], the degrees of abstraction have expanded exponentially. Today we could say that DIP has set photography totally free from the obligations of photorealism. By "totally free" I mean free to be any place on a scale from idealized photorealism to full abstraction. And, of course, any mix; ref. Interpretive: mixing photorealism and abstraction.
The strength of its narrative
So, one has to invent his/her own way in this DIP era. One has to have a message other than the medium [yes, that's a shameless nod to Marshall McLuhan ;-) ]. Essentially it comes down to this: Any one of our photographs is no stronger than the strength of its narrative, or if you prefer, its story, tale, meaning, etc. From that point-of-view I encourage an approach to photography based on Shoot for Story — Edit for Perception.
Since you can't Photoshop your way out of having nothing to say [not as obvious to everyone as it sounds ;--)], it's best to start with a scene that has compelling meaning to your viewer. Once you have that, then use your editing freedoms to make that meaning visually accessible by the viewer.
More posts about narrative
Painters set photographers free
Things have come full circle. While at first photography set painters free to innovate impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, and so on, those freedoms are now available for DIP photographers to employ. But to what end? Those freedoms are not an end in themselves. The DIP photographer has to have something to say that's worth the viewer's attention. Thankfully, all of creation is full of metaphoric and symbolic meaning. To support that assertion I'll borrow from Minor White and Vincent Van Gogh:
"One should not only photograph things
"...all reality is also at the same time symbolic."
Which path chose me?
I'm influenced the most by the visual communications thread in my professional career. The aesthetics and practical objectives of all graphics from drafting/mechanical design, to visualizing data, to technical visuals such as Scanning Electron Microscopy, to technical product marketing-communications and business-communications in all mediums; i.e. professional visual communications, visual literacy, with an objective/purpose. That emphasis on narrative stuck with me.