Commodity or Art? On My Photographs and Poems
Taking photographs has become a very common routine. Amongst the things a tourist thinks about, taking a picture may very well be a priority. That's how I started too, and a lot of that can be seen in the Voyages section.
Yet somehow I have always felt different about it; I didn't take photographs to be able to tell people where I was, or to show pictures of me at place soandso; my interest has rather been to capture the moment. Yet that doesn't make it less touristic.
There is a difference between taking photos and engaging in photography. The difference lies in the sincerity of the endeavor, as it can be said for almost all forms of art. Some people write poems for certain occasions, they rhyme, they're nice, they're pleasant and funny, I've done that too, yet you won't find any of that stuff at my site. These people, however, aren't necessarily poets just because they write a poem. An incidental writer of poetry has a different interest in the art form: it is a commodity, a pragmatic enterprise. Art, however, knows little about pragmatics, its intention cannot be measured with money or other means of compensation. Money may very well be made with art; yet that's not the priority. Most artists are interested in money not for the sake of it, but to enable themselves to continue creating art.
Contrary to writing poems, which isn't actually part of everybody's daily routine, taking photos and engaging in photography often look the same; and there are surely some beautiful pictures made by tourists. I would never criticize that, nor would I want to ridicule a tourist's taking photos, nor derogatively call it snapshot-photography.
Yet what is the agenda? What is the "message", to use an ugly word in the realm of arts, what is it the picture can tell us? This is not the same as asking for a pragmatic motive behind, it's about the picture as a piece of art. That's what I call artistic sincerity: The difference between taking a picture just because it's "nice", or taking it to capture something, some inexplicable air of meaning suggested by inspirational impulses - this difference is hoped to show in my Elements and Places sections.
May 25th, 2001. (first posted as "Introduction to my Photographs" on philjohn.com April 5th, 2001)