How To Feel Superior :>)

April 09, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


Carmel Coast, USA.
Phase One XF 100MP, 240mm lens, 25 seconds @ f14, ISO 50, Nisi 10X ND Filter

Why is photography of the past relevant to our current generation?

You can read this question two ways, depending on your interpretation of 'current generation'. Is the current generation everyone who is alive today (an expanded definition), or does it mean the younger generation (an erroneous supposition in my opinion)?

No longer falling into the latter definition, I tend to think that the question (asked by a student) could be better worded as follows: Why is photography of the past relevant?

Historically, I don't know of any successful or famous artists who didn't have some understanding of the past, or at least trained with a successful artist of their times. The main reason to understand the past is so you can progress further - rather than re-inventing the wheel or copying what someone else has already done, learn the lessons of the past so you can go somewhere new with your creativity.

For instance, it's easy for me to dismiss Ansel Adams as an average photographer when I compare his work to that of later American photographers, but we have all learnt so much from Mr Adams that he deserves our respect. Without seeing his photographs, the way he cropped images, the way he interpreted them, we would not be nearly as advanced as we are today. If indeed we are!

On the other hand, as Susan Sontag says, all photography is derivative.

I sometimes read this as 'never being original' because someone, somewhere will already have taken something very similar if not identical to your work. So, by being ignorant of the past - and everyone else's work - at least you can be original within yourself. However, it doesn't change the big picture that other people will continue to judge you based on their knowledge and background of the past.

Perhaps the question was related to technology and access.  So ubiquitous has photography become that for most people it is a matter of craft, not art. This isn't to demean good craft in anyway, rather to distinguish between someone using an Instagram filter and a photographer interpreting a raw file. There isn't always a difference when you look at the results, of course, but I think it's the intent that is important.

So, why is photography of the past relevant to our current generation? Because most of the 'new' filter effects being offered by one-button image editing apps are based on the techniques and craft of the past - and it makes me feel superior to know this. But now I'm starting to sound like my parents!

What do you think?


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