Artist: Mark D. Whitney, Media: Digital Photograph
Artist: Mark D. Whitney
Media: Digital Photograph

I’m Confused About Photography

I’ll admit it. I’m confused about photography – always have been and probably always will be.

The internet is awash with images. It seems that everybody’s a photographer, but are they?

It’s so easy these days to produce an image that’s technically correct. The camera (or maybe we should say ‘imaging device’ because everything is a camera now) handles all the focusing and exposure details for us. Just point and shoot. Viola! I’m an artist. I’m a photographer. I’m a fine art photographer even because, you know, I get soooo many likes on my images when I post them.

Although it’s simple to take a technically correct and momentarily eye catching image. It’s incredibly difficult to create a photograph with a deep and lasting impression. The confusing part is that at first glance it’s often very difficult to tell the two apart. So difficult in fact that most people never can tell the difference.

The vast majority of the images that we see on the internet are not that good no matter what people claim. The images may have lots of pretty colors, a foreign locale, or a bunch of 20 somethings standing around giving blank stares, but they’re just repetitive verbatim recordings of a subject plopped in front of the camera. A robot could be programmed to produce the same images. Stand it up in the right spot and switch it on.

There must be more to photography than that.

As Minor White once said, “There’s no particular class of photograph that I think is any better than any other class. I’m always and forever looking for the image that has spirit!”

What is this spirit that White talks about? What is it that separates an average run of the mill photo from one that’s got spirit? What is it that makes Shomei Tomatsu’s photos better than mine?

I’ve been trying to figure this out since I first started playing around with a camera and a crude darkroom I made out of the family laundry room back around the time I was in the sixth grade. My photography has changed over the years (for the better I hope). I’ve put the camera down and picked it back up again. I’ve gone from chemical to digital. I’ve studied art in all its forms not just photography. I’m intrigued by the stories of people that have that spirit in their work from musicians to architects to chefs.

Still I’m confused. I haven’t yet figured out for sure what separates a pretty picture from a work of art. I think I’m getting closer, but it’s elusive.

Perhaps as the old saw goes – it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Maybe it’s impossible to nail down the essence of a really fine art photograph, but it’s the search for it that counts.


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