A Cerebral Existence; Photography’s Theoretic Nature

Photography is amazing; all aspects of it. Consider the actual physicality of recording light. Consider the history. Consider the results of photography.

Photography is such a cerebral medium, more so than all the others. Photography challenges truth by copying life. Truth has been arguably the biggest conflict within the photography world. Bring it back to Hippolyte Bayard who photographed himself “dead” as a dramatic fake suicide in 1840. All to announce his discontent with the government for not recognizing him as the inventor of photography.

Three aspects of my Fall 2014 semester set me up to this conclusion of photography being ultimately intricate: History of Photography, Photo 2, and portfolio review, and a Tumblr discovery glued all of the pieces together.

History of Photography included a reading called Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer. Reading it alone, without real discussion, I concluded that everybody takes pictures and everybody takes pictures of the same things. But push it into discussion, and so many philosophical conflicts pop up. Does it matter what the subject is or who photographed it? Which one affects the value? Do these photos have value if they’re the same? What makes Diane Arbus’ pictures so undeniably hers? Can there be another Arbus? Is there more or less to the subjects photographed over and over?

Photo 2 is the second half of a year of black and white film photography and darkroom printing (I’m part of the last generation at my school to get a full year of it, unfortunate for the future…but yay for me.) In this class, we’re expected to have perfected or near perfected printing so as to focus on content. The assignments varied greatly and challenged us to make our viewers think, to ask questions.

Portfolio Review was the real eye opener. To get into the photography program, you have to present all of your artwork from the entry courses required for the program, write a paper, and see what the entire (four person) photography department says. The commentary I received was that my dedication to photography and my skill are admirable, but I need to know the history of what I’m doing. This critique is based on my constant drawback to romantic imagery without any contemporary commentary. They said “Read everything.” Since then, I have been trying to; there is way more text on photo theory than you might guess.

What brought me to this realization of photography’s complexity was Tumblr. I am a big advocate of Tumblr for its insanely diverse collection of curators, professional and not. So, in search of some inspiration for my own photos, I typed “conceptual” in the search box for Tumblr and 98% of it was photography. No other medium can challenge photography’s theoretic nature. Known or not, photographers and photography filled Tumblr’s search results. And this has held true for many other times I’ve searched “conceptual” since then.

This year I pledge to delve into every crease and silver grain of photography’s intricacy and share its wonders with you.

“The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life…!”

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