Aesthetics or Truth
“For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensible: intoxication.” - Nietzche
In the presence of something that delights us, we tend to leave questions of truth or untruth behind us. When, in (the Dickens novel) Bleak House, the Law shamelessly grinds, relents, stumbles back to the point, and then reaches decisions as marked as much by injustice as by delay, the shape described by that process is a shape we all know. Whether or not Dickens is correct in all of the particulars that he uses to support his descriptions is less important than that he has drawn for us the awful form of frustration. That is enough documentation for most of us, and enough truth.
When we think about photographs rather than novels, however, we seem to feel that we are dealing with a distinctly different process. The usual suspension of disbelief that we make for books, poems, paintings, and even films does not appear to be appropriate in the face of the photograph’s faithful depiction. We tend to believe that photographs obviously “tell” us the truth, and effortlessly so. That we may be confusing the truth with a particular form of visual description rarely enters our minds: there is the world in the picture, just as we have always known and seen it.
Because of their transparent quality, most of us also feel free when we talk about photographs to judge them in ways we would probably not use in judging other works of art. We take on the role of experts and assume that, if we do ask questions of such pictures, our questions will be interesting ones. Thus, we might examine Robert Frank`s The Americans in light of whether or not it tells a certifiable truth about America in the 1950s, without thinking to subject a novel such as Nabokov’s Lolita, for example - written at about the same time by another gifted foreigner - to a similar examination. Such questions may be asked, of course, and may even have a certain value, but I do not think that they are particularly useful questions, at least if we wish to approach the complicated issues that photographs raise. For what I think these questions do is merely support the idea that as long as photographs are confused with or, more precisely, identified with their subjects, then we are going to run in circles when we discuss them.
Now this is not to suggest that photographers do not use the camera’s mimetic gifts to seduce us: that is where photography - and the photographer’s fascination with the medium - begins. Neither would I want to suggest that there are not serious photographers, perhaps most of them, who believe that their pictures are true and faithful recordings of the world - or at least believe it after the fact, away from the frustrating problems of trying to make them seem clear and intentional. Nor will it do to forget that, unlike other pictures, photographs describe things that once actually stood or moved in front of a machine, and therefore seem to be memories as much as they are pictures. None of this, however, negates the fact that photographs are pictures; that they describe prejudices; that they are signs, half-truths, cripples, fictions that live only by moments and know only the surface of things.
The truth is that photographs contain at best an adjusted truth, a mediated truth, a collaboration between the photographer, his subject, and, finally, photography itself.
To extend this idea, however, I would also suggest that this collaboration is much like the one that the poet finds himself working with as he tries to define his subject with language. In fact, I think about photography as a kind of language, a language that names what it describes, much as words name the world. As the poet Denise Levertov, after describing her love of painting, put it:
Yet I have come to see that the art of photography shares with poetry a factor more fundamental: it makes its images by means anybody and everybody uses for the most banal purposes, just as poetry makes its structures, its indivisibilities of music and meaning, out of the same language used for utilitarian purposes, for idle chatter, or for uninspired lying.
Once we accept this general sense about what photography might be, we should also be more careful about the questions we ask of photographs. By splitting the medium into “documentary” and “art” photographs, we are led to the easy conclusion that the “documentary” part of the split has the obligation to meet whatever it is we think “truthful evidence” is. If, however, we think of photography as a kind of whole body that, like the whole body of poetry, displays in a variety of ways the tension that can exist between our sense of the world and the manner in which a language can inflect that sense, we might then decide that photographs are not more or less true, but more or less coherent and achieved.
The meaning of the Greek word aisthetikos is "sensations.” I do not know if love of the medium happens in the way that love of other things seems to happen. I do know that love of photography can change, that it can widen, or more probably, deepen with time. I also know that such love, can be claimed and seemingly defined in almost rational terms. What is impossible to express, however, is that sense a photographer has as he attempts to draw the half-recognized and half-felt into a picture that appears to hold the contour of truth. Not a common truth, but a truth specific to the shape of a particular moment.
-Core Curriculum: Writings on Photography
Validation is for Parking
“Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t. “ -Craig Damrauer
The trouble with creative work: Sometimes by the time people catch on to what’s valuable about what you do, you’re either a) bored to death with it, or b) dead. You can’t go looking for validation from external sources. Once you put your work into the world, you have no control over the way people will react to it.
Ironically, really good work often appears to be effortless. People will say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”' They won’t see the years of toil and sweat that went into it.
Not everybody will get it. People will misinterpret you and what you do. They might even call you names. So get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored - the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care.
-Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative