Although I've taken images since 1979 I don't feel that I became a photographer until 1999...
I can more or less pinpoint the transition from "taker" to "maker" to the day when I created the image on the left.
It was the first time that I had consciously 'seen' a part of the landscape as an abstract rather than just a 'detail'. It was also the first time that I sought to impart more than a simple description. This is an important distinction.
The detail is merely an illustration of a small part of the wider landscape, its ambitions are limited to describing some noteworthy (for the photographer) portion of reality. In this way it fulfills the role of answering the viewers' questions (if they have any!) about the subject of the photograph.
The abstract, on the other hand, doesn't seek to answer anything; rather it forces the viewer to ask some questions of the photograph / photographer: what am I looking at? why did the photographer make this image? why did they choose to compose it like this? how does this make me feel? unmoved? curious? what is the scale? is scale important?
These questions, and many more, make the abstract photograph more 'difficult' to view in the sense that viewing an abstract image requires the active participation of the viewer. Most photographs are viewed passively; we absorb what they show without any conscious effort. But, in the same way that a McDonalds is pleasant to eat but no more – because it requires very little mastication – one of these passive photographs leaves no permanent impression on us. An hour, or at most a day, after we've looked at a passive image it's lost to our memory.
What we get out of photographs is directly linked to the effort that we put into the viewing and it seems obvious to me that the photographer's duty is to try and engage the viewer; not simply by making 'pretty' images but by asking something of them in return for the gift of the image. They should sing for their suppers!
Workshop at Linhof & Studio
Paula and I will be running another LF workshop in Leigh on Sea in spring 2008. Details will be posted on the Linhof website in due course or if you just can't wait contact Paula on +44(0)1702 716116 for further details and to reserve a place.