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Curious Frame - Photography is Amazing
Issue #41 - 29 September 2021
What is real? So much of what we believe is true is often accompanied with a photograph as if that makes it real.
So one of the major topics of Curious Frame is about questioning what we believe through photography.
In this newsletter, I am using photos from an issue of Aperture magazine on Delirium that was published in 1997. I found it in a secondhand bookstore for a few dollars.
All of the photos leave something to the imagination and without a byline, it’s difficult to know what the photo was representing. So only the opening photo is mine. I hope that you enjoy it.
If you find value in reading Curious Frame, you can now support my research and writing into my thoughts on photography. But no sweat if you’re unable to contribute. The newsletter is still free for everyone.
Curious Frame exists for you the readers. It is fabulous how so many people are involved in the dialogue and with so many different opinions about what photography means to us. Let the dialogue continue!
All you need to do to join the dialogue is hit reply. You can even reply to earlier issues as well. The comment below is in response to the previous issue On Creativity.
One reader wrote:
Creativity is the focus of every artist, some are more than others, but deep down everyone tries to be creative, are there the craziest ones who can sometimes seem to be more creative or is madness closely related to creativity? Sometimes I think so, maybe a chapter on madness and creativity someday?
I don't see any difference in collages or abstracts having more creativity than a simple picture of a portrait! Creativity can be in the direction of the pose or lighting, creativity is in the art direction, in the choice of location, finally creativity has to be in everything we are going to create. After the photo is taken, in the post-treatment we have to use creativity to finish, this changes a photo like water to wine! Just to try to explain that at all times we have to try to be as creative as possible, life without creativity must be very boring!
Thanks so much for contributing to the dialogue about creativity! Yes, I will have to write about madness and creativity.
Photography is Amazing
Photography is amazing. Let me repeat myself. Photography is amazing. When is the last time that stood back far enough from photography to realize that?
The world managed to get by for millennia without it. It has only been a bit more than 150 years since the birth of photography. Yet we take it for granted. It has been part of our lives from birth.
In life we have language as a primary method of communication. And yes, we even take language for granted. There are thousands of languages and dialects in the world that we use to communicate with each other.
Photography is also a language. It crosses linguistic boundaries. Add to that print media, the internet and the many forms of wired media and it has come to be a major form of communication.
Language, photography and other methods of image making are how we learn about the world that we live in including places and things that we would not be able to experience otherwise.
In the above photo it would be difficult to know what the woman was responding to or even to know that it wasn't horrific. It was Beatlemania! Remove the context from the photo and it looks very different.
In the same breath, all of these forms of communication only express a partial truth. Sometimes they also provide untruths, lies. We can’t take any of them as being the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I often think about the chicken or the egg question. Does photography imitate life? Or does life imitate photography? Sometimes real life is incredibly ironic.
The above photo was not set up. It really happened. A woman who shows no emotion and even has her eyes covered with dark glasses wants to know what her face shows!
Meanwhile, advertising is everywhere all the time. It’s on the streets and the internet. Lately I’ve been looking at the plethora of advertising for designer clothing and the lifestyle that they represent.
The models rarely look like the people that you see on a daily basis. They are typically ultra thin and wearing makeup and styled in a way that is so far removed from the world I live in. I don’t know anyone that looks that way or even see them when out shooting street photography.
Some photographers specialize in strange. Ralph Eugene Meatyard is one of them. Apparently he only developed his film once a year because he "didn't want to be tyrannized by impatience."
Sometimes photos of real people in real situations are capable of looking stranger than those manufactured by the advertising industry. While Meatyard's photo above isn't one of his strangest, with a little bit makeup or stylizing, it could look like an ad for one of the top fashion houses.
It isn’t just the clothing. Some of it is the heroin chic look. As if that’s a style that we should desire to imitate. Or as if that’s what someone who does heroin looks like. Sometimes people actually want to imitate advertising. How about that?
Photographs are and always have been more fiction than fact. David Levi Strauss
Some photos look like an image from a science fiction film. They create room for the imagination to take over. Somehow looking at a photo of something that you know was manipulated is more real than an image created with the sole purpose of selling you something.
Duane Michals is a master at creative photography. So how do we escape thinking that what we see in advertising is normal or even something to aspire to?
The repetition of images that represent certain styles begin to look normal to us. As if that makes it acceptable. Repetition of images is not always normal or even natural. Remember that ads are created to get us to part with our money!
While there are many images that we see everyday that don’t necessarily match our vision of the world, there are countless images that don’t look real or leave us confused. Sometimes we just need a little information about them first.
No information is provided about the above photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson. It is possible that he would've been happy to hear this as he was not interested in journalistic photography. He preferred to think of photography as an intuitive process.
So we get to choose what his photo means. Perhaps we should always be looking at photography in that manner. Not what the artist intended, but what we see.
Fiction is often more realistic that nonfiction. When we are presented with a true story it typically provides one side of a story. Sometimes art and photography can present us with a more nuanced view of the world that we live in.
And then sometimes real life is pretty amazing and as the saying goes, even Hollywood couldn't make this up!
Yes, your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Just hit reply in your email.
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Curious Frame - In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes.’
Three Words - Part 3
Here is the third installment of the 3 words series. It is an experiment and I thank the people who have contributed to it so far. There’s still time to submit to it as this is an ongoing project. Just hit reply in your email.
It isn’t scientific or objective. But we already know that photography is always subjective. So this is about what you think and feel about photography in 3 words.
Obviously, 3 words isn’t even sufficient to fully explain what photography means to us. Nevertheless, here is the second submission in the series and these 3 words could’ve easily been my own.
Life Love Art
I couldn’t have chosen three better words to describe my experience with photography. Photography is a large portion of my life. But regardless, photography is life. How could it be anything else?
When I think about photography is life, I immediately thought of the first photography book that I ever owned, The Family of Man.
It is still an amazing book and I wonder what it would’ve been like to actually see the exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art back in 1955 when all 503 photos were on display.
I love photography and it is often clear when viewing photos by many photographers that they too love not only looking at photos, but also the act of taking photos.
Art, such a small word. A mere 3 letters. One syllable and yet it says so so much. Photography has always been an art for me both in the seeing and the doing.
Art really is about having the ability of presenting something in a way that it can mean something to others as well even if that meaning is not exactly the same as the person making it.
Life, Love & Art are all words that can explain photography when it is done well.
11 Artists on Photography on Louisiana Channel