Musings on Photography

Translation, please

Posted in the art world by Paul Butzi on February 13, 2010


I recently came across the following text on a photographer’s web page. It appears to be in English but I when I read it, it’s like a drop of mercury rolling off a curved surface – it seems to be so slippery I just can’t get a grip on it.

Not Even But Almost is an investigative look at contemporary life and its unsatisfying nature. By looking intimately at perceived ideals of happiness in the out-there, we can understand how our in-here situations of containment and discontent are created. The understanding of the mind creating a mutually agreed upon reality becomes apparent in these external manifestations, unconsciously creating perpetual unsatisfactory situations. The relentlessness of discovering almost-understanding continues to persist through the inherent flaws in human nature. Through this work I hope to help viewers discover, the quest for wholeness is disguised in our pursuit of happiness.

Is that how other photographers approach what they do? I mean, really? Because that’s not how I do it.

I do it this way: I make some photos. I look at them. Almost always, I think (of one, or two, or some number) “Hmm, that’s interesting. I think I’ll make some more that are sort of like that, and see what happens.” And then I repeat.

And in doing that, sometimes I learn things about what I’m photographing, or I learn things about photographs, or in some rare cases I learn things about myself. Almost always I have a nice time, and end up happier and more content.

This isn’t earth shattering the way an investigative look at contemporary life and its unsatisfying nature would be, I agree. There’s no dealing with my in-here situation of containment and discontent, let alone how it’s created. There’s absolutely nothing dealing with how my mind creates a mutually agreed upon reality nor external manifestations, and nothing about unconsciously creating perpetual unsatisfactory situations.

Despite the lack of deep philosophical and art-theoretical underpinnings, I do seem to be having fun. I admit that I look forward to going to an exhibit of photos one day, and reading an artist statement along the lines of “I take photographs because when I take photographs, I have fun.”

14 Responses

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  1. Chris Klug said, on February 13, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I’m sorta similar. I have a camera in my hand, I see something that interests me for some reason I probably can’t fathom, I put the camera to my eye, and I capture the image. I take the images home, and either process them or develop them and then I look at them. Hopefully some of the images strike me as interesting, but that could very much be in a different way than they did in the field. I just hope there are some interesting images in the group I captured that time. And that’s the end of it. But I always enjoy the process.

  2. Cedric said, on February 13, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    It takes all types to make a world which makes it all the more interesting. I will say that I get what this person says because it’s always been in my nature to seek meaning to things including life, the universe… you know, all that stuff. I picked photography as a means to that end but I could have picked anything else really, cooking, running, even work. The thing is, it’s all fun to me too (yes even my day job) but I am not sure I could tell you precisely why I do any of it. What I mean is that I do things for a number of reasons. However where photography is concerned and even where writing is concerned I do what I do for myself. I share it but I do so in a spirit of community and not in the hope to gain fans or converts. What I do or say or photograph will only ever be of value to me. Whatever value people get from what I do they have brought along themselves and credit goes to them.
    I visit your blog because I enjoy your photographs; specially your recent untitled posts. I get a sense of fun in them but probably because they evoke memories of fun times rambling through country sides both in the States and in the UK. Until this post I had no way of knowing that fun was a driver for you though it is nice to know now that it is. The fact that you leave it at that is great but there are some, myself included, who can’t help but follow the thought that asks “but why is it fun, what makes it so?”, “what made me click the shutter now not later?”. It may well be useless to ponder these thoughts but for me… well, it’s a lot of fun to do so.

  3. Edd Fuller said, on February 13, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Artist, even great artists, often write the most extraordinary nonsense about their work. I rarely find artist’s statements illuminating, often find them baffling and mostly just ignore them.

    If I were a graphic designer, I would come up with a little graphic for “NO ARTSPEAK.” Websites could declare themselves “artspeak free zones” and prominently display the graphic. I think it would be refreshing.

  4. Paul Maxim said, on February 14, 2010 at 6:15 am

    I tend to agree with Edd, I guess. After reading the above quote a few times, my response is still – “Could you say that in regular English, please?” I mean, nobody actually talks like that, do they? I’d love to give this to some of my old English professors and see how they’d react to it. I remember one of them used to tell us that if a reasonably intelligent 10 year-old couldn’t understand what you’d written the first time through, it was time for a rewrite.

    So why post it as some kind of “artist’s statement”? Life – and Art – isn’t all that complicated. In reality, it’s all fairly simple. So why attempt to turn it into something it’s not?

    Doing it “for fun”. Now there’s something that all of us can understand. And it makes sense. Even to a 10 year-old kid.

  5. Adam Maas said, on February 14, 2010 at 6:16 am

    I believe that can be summed up as ‘I’ve got a B.FA or can convincingly fake it’.

  6. Melissa O'Shaughnessy said, on February 14, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Translation/Explanation? How to use obfuscating and pretentious language to divert the viewer/reader from mediocre photographs.

    Clear writing equals clear thinking, neither of which are necessarily easy. But you do both and they’re the reason I love your blog. Your photographs are beautiful, too, and do not require an “artist’s statement” like the one cited here.

  7. Peter Szawlowski said, on February 14, 2010 at 7:39 am

    I keep coming back to your blog because you seem to be able to express clearly the reasons why you take photographs.

    Myself – I go out, take photographs, print them, look at them, put them in stacks and drawers, go back out take some more photographs, frequently I visit places I have been before – I think ultimately, my hope is to convey subtly and for the most part indirectly, my underlying sense of the world and what is to be valued in it.

    Indeed it is hard to figure out what the person you are quoting is communicating – A link to the photographer’s web site would perhaps help us to understand?

  8. Richard Gardner said, on February 14, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Not being a walkabout photographer I find the need to create images with a very strong idea, relating to a project or group. Unfortunately this limits my art-making.

    So I have decided to create a body of work about nothing.Remember the “seinfeld”eposode.
    Each week I make a little tabletop sculpture, and photograph it.
    The only thing the images have in common is the number five.
    The title of this body of work is “Flying Eggplant #5”. Or perhaps “Fountain” as by Duchamp.
    I’m having a great time making this happen.

  9. Hugh Alison said, on February 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    We veterinarians know what our degrees stand for:


  10. Hugh Alison said, on February 14, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Sorry.. Keyboard playing up..

    Veterinary degrees:

    BSc…. Bull Shit

    MSc… More Shit

    PhD… Piled High and Deep

    Unfortunately I think some art postgrads take it all too seriously.

  11. Paul said, on February 15, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Years ago when I was younger and came across this type of artistic statement, realizing immediately I could not even begin to comprehend them, I felt it was always because I was lacking artistic knowledge. Nowadays I recognize there has never been anything lacking and I´m not an ignorant at all. I´ve come to the conclusion these kind of statements are usually big fat ego trips with no desire to communicate anything worthwhile.
    Anyway I´ve always thought if you need to explain your photography or any kind of artistic expression you´ve basically failed to comunicate with your actual work.

  12. Dennis Allshouse said, on February 15, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Paul, you’d better start developing your own exhibit because you’ll never see an artist statement like what you proposed, I don’t think. It’s a sticky subject: suppose I’m reading the newspaper and I see an ad for an exhibit which quotes the artist: “I take pictures because it’s fun.” I don’t find this particularly compelling as a reason to go see the work. Similarly the statement above is not very compelling either.

    The artist statement should help illuminate the work in some way so it would help to see the work before judging the statement too harshly. On the face of it, though, it does come off as a lot of smoke with no fire.

  13. Austin Model Photographers said, on February 15, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    I love all of the responses…fantastic. If only more people spoke their opinions so carefree…

  14. Ove said, on February 15, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Perhaps a poor comparison, but making all written words clear and immediately understandable sounds to me like HDR, an urge to bring light to what’s hidden in the shadows and highlights, as boring as an income declaration to the tax authorities.

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