Art or Science?
Within the first few pages the author places emphasis on the ongoing debate of photography being considered an art or a science? A debate that has been going on for as long as photography has existed. I think the answer for me would lie in just how black and white we choose to be regarding photography. Of course, the camera is a scientific invention, however, it is also a medium in which a person can use to express themselves in an artistic way. This is also subject to how a viewer “reads” a photograph. One could look at the image on page 10 of Meudon, taken by Andre Kertesz and simply see a photograph of a street with life carrying on the way it does and come to the conclusion that the photographer had randomly pressed the shutter. However, others may ponder on this image and look deeper into the various aspects of this image. You could wonder about the aesthetically pleasing parts that bring this photo together. Such as, the train positioned in the top right corner, travelling into the centre of the image, the lines of the streets, taking your eyes deeper into the scene towards the row of men and in the direction they walk and then onto the rubble below the train. You can wonder about the concealed item the man at the forefront is carrying and where he is heading to and of his significance to this scene, if any. It can also lead to considering what the message of the photographer was and of how he has interpreted his own vision.
Personally, I think the answer lies in how you choose to use the medium and of the user themselves. I choose to view photography as a medium of art in the same way a pencil and paper is to a sketch artist perhaps. Putting a pencil in my hand would result in stick men and scribbled notes and would certainly not be viewed as “art”. It is also true that, especially nowadays, anyone can pick up a camera and press the shutter release. It doesn’t take a scientific genius nor an accomplished artist to carry out any of these things, but that doesn’t negate the fact that these mediums can also be used artistically. It is a means of communication from the artist to the viewer, it just so happens to be technologically more scientifically advanced than that of other options available (no better or worse I hasten to add!). I am sure there will be other mediums invented one day in which one may use to express themselves artistically. The advancement of technology is always moving forward but I feel that perhaps sometimes, that it is natural for people to prefer “the old ways” and “how things were” and are unbending to change. Which is why, I believe, this argument has ensued for so long.
Perhaps, when a new artistic technology breaks onto the market, we photographers will be having similar arguments with the “newer” artists then.
The book talks about the rise of photography, with it’s beginning history and the way photographers chose to process their images – mostly Daguerrotypes and Calotypes (which then advanced to a waxed paper process) and the preferences of certain photographers choosing one or the other and then with both being overtaken by the glass negative process in the 50’s which allowed for clearer photographs with finer detail. It also made the process much cheaper, which paved the way to the photographic industry expanding and allowing for the lower middle classes to become recipients. It was quite affordable to have your portrait taken and delivered to you in a small size, thus paving the way to future family albums. A slightly larger version of this became the forerunner to the postcard.
Of course, in some of these first photographs you can see why some viewed a camera, simply as a means to record reality. With it’s ability to capture the detail of real life and real people, none of which would be considered doing anything special except existing. But, it also allowed people to see things they never had before and may never get to visit, igniting people’s imaginations and wonderment. This could even be considered creative in itself, even when you are only documenting and recording life as it were. You capture a scene and then a viewer is left ponder those specific moments, which have been singled out and separated from the natural timeline.