Photography is a multifarious activity. At this point in time it can be done, and is done, in ways which sum the entire evolution of photography. Photographers make photographs using techniques, processes and tools which date back to the beginning of mankind’s quest for capturing an image through the use of light sensitive materials to purely digital technological means.
Mankind is and always has been rather obsessed with documenting that which is significant within their lives; to them. The advent of photography certainly made this much easier. Rather than having to simply rely upon memory, a sketch or a written description, photography enabled people to ever more easily document that which was significant.
Over the course of one powerful century photography raced from the domain of the physicist and chemist to the fingertips of the common man. By the early part of the 20th century just about anyone who wanted to make photographs could. Flash forward another hundred years and making photographs is simply ubiquitous and requires no special skill, knowledge or equipment other than an ability to use your very own phone. This is not good, it is not bad, rather it just simply is what it is.
So, what of the photograph? There always have been and still are people who engage in photography for sincere and authentic artistic purposes. They are artists who channel their passion and creativity through photography. For the artistic photographer their endeavors are no different from the sculptor, painter or any other artist.
What does it mean for the artist who’s craft can apparently be practiced by anybody with seemingly equal ease and results? Will the advent of 3-D printing technology begin to, and perhaps ultimately, render sculpting as easy and pervasive as photography? It certainly could. Will there be endless debates about the merits of a chisel in hand versus a digitally generated design rendered via a mechanical device? Will there be apps that can imbue the 3-D printed object with all the traces and hallmarks of a hand chiseled sculpture? Who knows. Probably will though. This is not any different from the millions of photographs taken on phones and then through cheap or free apps converted to mimic every aspect of every photographic process that’s ever existed. Wet Plate Collodion? No problem. In just matter of seconds you can convert any old phone image into a tintype.
What to make of all this? Where does it leave the artist? Well, here’s the me part of all of this. It is and always has been about that singular outcome. The printed image. Nobody could ever argue that the differences, subtle or not, which exist between a digitally produced image printed on an ink jet printer and a hand crafted image made through any number of chemical processes can compare. Note, I said “compare.” I’m not saying one is better than the other.
Practicing the art of photography through film, collodion, dry plate even via digital negatives and carrying forward through the numerous chemical processes is where the art of photography resides for me. My work as an artist does not come close to ending with the image capture. That’s just the first step in realizing the image I’ve got in my head. It’s all of the experimentation and effort that goes into the production of a single outcome that constitutes the artistic and creative element for me. What you end up with in this course of practice is truly singular in every way. It is the real connection of a vision to an outcome. It absolutely relies on my skill and supports my willingness to experiment a bit.
What I think is kind of odd in all of this for me is that it has brought me rather directly into a confrontation which I feel is the essence of say Warhol. To me, what I’m calling the foundation and fundamental to my art is the very opposite direction someone like Warhol moved with purpose. In a way Andy Warhol was the first iPhone artist of sorts right? We all know this. That said, in the end, regardless as to how he did what he did, there was without a doubt a unique fingerprint on all that he produced which came from within the artist he was.
In the end, I’m able to stand face to face with a very unique and very purposefully made work of art. Is this possible with digital technology, phones, apps etc..? I think it is. Will 3-D printers begin to spit out sculpted works of art? I think they will. Wherein resides the ART? The Artist? Same place as it ever did. In the individuals passion, creativity, vision and skill.