Musings on Photography


Posted in art is a verb, the art world by Paul Butzi on August 31, 2008

I’ve commented before about how some photography is about discovering reality (or things about it) and some photography is about inventing things which are similar to but not the same as reality.

So it was with some amusement that I read this article about solving the problem of a past history with which you aren’t entirely satisfied. The answer, of course, is to take all the photos you have and just use photoshop to erase the bits you don’t like. If you want to have mementos of your vacation to Jamaica, but you want to forget the spouse you were married to then – not a problem. Just use photoshop and erase him (or her) from your photos of Dunn’s River Falls.

Look, I’m no different from anyone else. I have things in my past I that make me uncomfortable; everyone does. But I don’t feel a need to behave like Stalin, happily engaging in historical revisionism just so that it appears that my life has always been perfect – one smooth, even course from birth through to the present.

I admit that I struggle with the whole ‘art’ concept. I’m no longer sure what art is, or if what I do is art. I’m more or less resigned to the fact that I’m going to do what I do (which is make photos to help me figure things out) and if people think it’s art, why, that’s fine. And if they don’t think it’s art, well, I guess I’m ok with that, too.

But that doesn’t keep me from thinking about what I think Art ought to be. I think Art ought to help us get on in life, sure, but I think perhaps we’ll get on in life better if we face up to our past, errors and all, and just get on with the future. I think Art, perhaps, ought to be like religion – that is, I think it ought not to lead us out of this world so much as enable us to live better in it.

10 Responses

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  1. Sean said, on September 1, 2008 at 8:52 am

    Religion? I belong to a church that I never go to. Perhaps Art should be more like exercise… The more you do, the healthier you get and the more you’re able to do with a better quality of life as the end result.

    Except that I don’t exercise, either. (sigh)

  2. JuHa said, on September 1, 2008 at 10:32 am

    A nice photo which suitably illustrates and contrasts the topic. Of the possible ways of taking a photo of this subject, which of the photos you could call art, and which would be just snapshots?

  3. Rosie Perera said, on September 1, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    I like that you didn’t Photoshop out the dead part of the leaf.

    I think true Art (and Religion) should help us see the beauty in and amidst the pain and ugliness of life. That brown spot on the leaf is beautiful the way you’ve portrayed it. Your photo doesn’t hide the truth of death and decay in our world. But the fact that beauty exists in spite of death and decay (even because of same, at times) is a sign of hope for this universe.

    I’ve been guilty of Photoshopping out ugly parts of reality to make my photos prettier. Is that always a bad thing, though? I’m not sure. Maybe some art needs to depict what we long for: beauty without any pain or death, which Religion tells us it is right to hope for someday.

  4. latoga said, on September 1, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    I think it’s one thing to photoshop an image to make it more estetically pleasing from a photographic perspective (I removed an annoying road sign from the image I use on my business card; and I feel it is a better image for it) but another to do it to erase your personal deamons. I think the lady in the news article has deeper issues than we are qualified to analyze. And that example is at an entirely different level of conversation than modifying your art photographs.

  5. Mike said, on September 2, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Photography won’t get you any closer to “reality” than you are now. You may find yourself taking a closer look at the things that surround you, but as for understanding what’s behind it all — I think not. We have physicists and philosophers working on this!

  6. MikeB said, on September 2, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Your example of Jamaica and Dunn’s River Falls reminds me of my 1st marriage. I wouldn’t want to repeat that trip now, but I wouldn’t want to expunge its existence either. That’s what pictures and history are for. The happy middle ground.

  7. […] from the beach Yesterday I was reading Paul Butzi’s post about reality. Though the entire post was not about art, so to speak, one paragraph caught my […]

  8. Frank Armstrong said, on September 2, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    “I think Art, perhaps, ought to be like religion – that is, I think it ought not to lead us out of this world so much as enable us to live better in it.”



  9. Bryan Willman said, on September 2, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Sure. But sometimes people’s pasts can be unfairly limiting to their present and futures, because of how society treats their past.

    So just as removing a tatoo may be necessary to go forward in your life, editing or better not displaying photos of some “unacceptable” aspect of your past may be necessary to meet your goals going forward. (Though in the world of google and wayback machine, it’s unclear if this can ever succeed.)

    All of that said, history is as it is… Regardless of what lies we use to get past it.

  10. Andreas Manessinger said, on September 11, 2008 at 4:05 am

    Religion? Well, then art wouldn’t have any part in my life 🙂

    “Enable us to live better”? Probably, but that depends on the definition of “us”. For me art is a verb, and it is what makes ME live better. I know some people who follow my blog, and I can’t but assume that they do it because it makes THEM live better. The first is for sure, the second is an assumption, though plausible. What art can never be, is a way to make EVERYONE live better. We can’t even take for granted that it makes ANYONE BUT US live better.

    Thus I share your attitude heartily, but for me that also means that I don’t think at all about what art “ought to be”. It is what it is: to me, to some others, and to many or most it may be nothing at all. That’s OK, it does not need to be something for everyone.

    And it goes further. My art and your art may be different things or nothing at all for the same people, and that’s OK as well. We largely share attitudes in that regard, but it would also be OK if we did not. If there is one thing that art does not need, then it’s the invention of rules for what is art and what not, at least not in any sense that is narrower than “a manifestation of a creative act”.

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