Thursday, December 1, 2011
When Does a Snapshot Become Art?
Photography, and what defines a photo of artistic-grade aesthetic value, is both fickle and maddeningly nebulous. It is the nature of a non-quantitative thing to be impossibly abstract and reluctant to be weighted down by something so mundane as "definition". Thus the selection process I employ when sifting through my photographs for the "keepers" buried amongst the snaps is... difficult.
My habits when sitting down at the computer at the end of a day of shooting are predictable and brutally consistent. Rip the photos onto the hard drive, pop open Adobe Bridge and peek through them one by one. What is horribly inconsistent, however, is what exactly I'm looking for. The night of a shoot I will have in my mind exactly what I'm excited to review and edit in post, the compositions I stopped to think out carefully on a venture with the direct intent to produce art. Eager to share them, I will punch through editing in a couple hours of miserable repetition and upload them to Flickr, distribute them into groups and sit back with the giddy "Look at me and what I did" anticipation of a toddler.
But then there's a phase that creeps up after.
Now, they aren't always pretty. Such fleeting moments require sloppy spur of the moment reaction, and the attempt to capture that moment isn't necessarily success. But if you're quick enough, if the planets align in that moment and the light is right and the camera is set and the camera is trained on the scene, sometimes that moment is captured beautifully. BUT, assuming the occurrence of a miracle allowed that passing moment to be captured, that memory photographically recorded... is it art?
I sit down with a couple glasses of vodka/rum/whiskey/what have you. Magic happens.
Not even my active conscious can deny them consideration anymore. I see relationships and shapes and lines and colors and tones and expressions and suddenly they are the most beautiful images I've ever seen, often embodying memories I'd cast aside for sake of the pursuit of "higher art". And in those moments I wonder what it is that defines the art-value to begin with. There are two sides to me, both with grossly different appeals but due appreciation for each other. The sobered, rigid, detail oriented clear mind and this spontaneous, flimsy yet emotionally intuitive mind. Which one is the artist here? And under what instinct does a snapshot meet the standards of "art" to this subconscious drive?
The answer is elusive. Maybe I need a drink to find it.