I’ve reached the end of the MOMA course “Seeing Through Photographs” apart from completing the written assignment, a short consideration of the materials presented to me or a critique of another work of art using the criteria presented during the course.
I’ve not yet decided on what to present for this assignment, nor, indeed, if it is strictly necessary. (I’m not doing this course for credit – those days are well behind me.) But I probably will contribute something for I’ve gleaned a lot to think about from this study.
Some of this I’ve already covered. But there’s a lot more. Perhaps the most significant insight has been the reevaluation of a photograph as an object in its own right. Like many, I suspect, who have spent a lot of time in front of a computer screen downloading and processing digital images, I found myself caught up in considering the image as representative rather than as an end in itself. That’s probably good enough for most purposes, but its very utility as a record works to disguise its importance.
As portrayed on the computer screen the image loses individuality and becomes part of a series. Literally in the cases where I photographed the same scene dozens of times with the freedom to accumulate that digital photography offers, and figuratively or temporally as a record of my concerns and my history. Even sharing such an image on Facebook or a photography dedicated website fails to adequately transform the image into something with a more tangible quality. It remains abstract, an idea more than an object. It’s only when I print the image, perhaps frame it and hang it from my wall, that the photograph gains a true individual artifactual quality. An artifactual essence that, moreover, enhances its value beyond the ephemeral. Surely it is this realization that is driving me, despite the hurdles of time requirements and some practical limitations, towards taking the majority of my current photographs using film, a material archival record.
Ultimately, though, the most significant modifier of a photograph’s presence is context. Photographs presented as a set in a published book or on an exhibition hall’s walls gain considerably from the gravitas of these settings. Publishing or public presentation suggests the work has passed through a protocol of validation. It has been selected as art worthy of general consideration. With that imprimatur, all that remains is to see whether the book sells or the exhibition hall fills as a final validation, and even then that can have an ambiguous outcome – a failure can be dismissed as simply being ahead of its time.
So how does this all relate back to my simple hobby of taking photographs?
In many ways. This year, not for the first time but more so than before, I’ve been exhibiting publicly, plus entering (and winning) photography competitions. I have a show of my own coming up in December of this year when my work will be contextualised on the wall of a display area. Doing and thinking of these things has already begun to change how I approach my photography. I am devoting more time to making prints. I am thinking of what to show. It’s a change, not necessarily better but one that is making me feel more connected to a wider world than that found on the internet. Most importantly, it’s continuing to be fun. As long as that remains, I’ll keep on doing and learning.