Back to the Light
An older photographer’s thoughts on the nature of photography in the digital age
20 October 2020
I’ve always been interested in photography, long before cameras were available to us all on smartphones. Now everyone is a photographer of sorts. Of course, its not that straightforward. You can take a high quality photo on a smartphone because the tiny lenses are now excellent and your phone can process the image using clever algorithms that make a best guess at how the image should look. But what happens when you want to be more creative, for example, when you only want to focus on specific elements? Also, how do you know what to focus or not focus on? How is that choice informed? How do you know what to frame and how all the elements can be used to best effect, that is, to the effect that you want to achieve? This, and many other factors, make the difference between those who simply click the shutter and the “photographer”. This doesn’t mean that the quick snap may not be occasionally brilliant, however, can that photo be printed above a certain size, how much can it be post-processed; how much intent is there?
For me, returning to photography in the last few years has meant a dizzying engagement with digital post processing and online engagement, such as this blog. I have yet to get to grips with video production. Presenting myself is something I can do but, perhaps like many photographers, it is the photographs that you want to communicate through. Younger people now see it as natural to self-promote online. I see it as a necessary evil. Why? Because we already live in a world where our ego-driven imperatives, combined with a largely materialist outlook, lead to struggles with mental health, climate crisis, political division and war. I say this, because I believe, along with people like Eckhart Tolle, that we have lost our spiritual connection to our real selves and to the universe around us. I intend to use the tools that are online to create images that have a spiritual dimension, whether that is in the field of landscape, documentary or street photography. I personally believe the great photographers, perhaps those that I look to the most, all understand this level of spiritual involvement with their subject. They involve themselves in the moment, with the environment and the people they are working with. I felt this strongly at a recent exhibition by Tom Stoddart at the Side Gallery in Newcastle.
So what do I offer you? I intend to bring my love of photography and the necessary spiritual dimension together. Images are immediate and powerful and should be used to good effect, perhaps to make us feel more connected with the world (a landscape or street photograph perhaps), or to make us think or be involved in important work (documentary and photojournalism). I’m not going to talk about photographic techniques and hardware. There are many people far more able and established than me producing brilliant videos in this area. For example, Sean Tucker, Mark Denney and Samuel Lintaro Hopf. There are also hundreds of books and courses available to help you develop the skills you need to produce images that express your message.
Of course, photography is used in business and advertising and to record social events such as birthdays and marriages. I think a great photographer can still bring a human, universally spiritual ethos to these workaday photography environments too. It’s our duty as human beings. Who you choose to work with in business is up to you, but consider who you are selling yourself to and to what ends. Do you want a Faustian pact, and if you how do you balance good intent with profit. I think this deserves a whole discussion in itself.
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