We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, he would never accomplish anything.
I was alerted to the quotation above by Florida Native a long time reader. I knew when I read the comment that line was going to stick and indeed I did some research, as well as some thinking. The point of the comment was that without the words the pictures don't tell the story and I have to say I agree. Photography is ubiquitous thanks to digital technology which has simplified the process while also making it practically free of cost and idiot proof at the same time. Furthermore the Internet makes diffusion of images so widespread in a way that was unimaginable in my youth.
I was reading a review of a camera used by a friend of mine, Steve in Pennsylvania, a higher quality but not quite professional quality, they say, digital camera of several years vintage, . The reviewer expressed a certain bitterness about the phone snapshot culture as he tested the relatively simple Fuji X-pro 1, a camera too professional for a hack like me to bother with. But this photographer Paul Mauer is struggling with the times:
It's true, I get it – getting the shot is the ultimate goal. But as a photographer, I've spent years rewiring my brain to obsess over image quality and artistic control of my exposure. The idea of an iPhone snap leaves me totally uninspired. If I'm not using my high end gear to produce a magazine-ready image, I'm not interested.
Consequently, my Canon 5D MkII has been collecting dust over the past three years. I live in New York City, where there's lots to photograph. But lugging around 10 pounds of metal and glass for the off-chance of a good candid opportunity? My desire to shoot faded every time I was confronted with the prospect of carrying my DSLR around with me, and I'd be damned before I took a serious photo with my iPhone.
And the times really are changing everything in the world of self expression and Art and technology. I can only imagine the frustration of a photographer used to selling images taken with care and superior skill finding a good enough culture of snap shots flooding the world. We used to buy and study magazines dedicated to photojournalism nowadays we have Instagram. And yet as amateurs flood the digital world we are reminded more than ever that we need filters in the stories we are told of the world around us. This weird phenomenon of shouting Fake News everytime we see something annoying is taking our culture to the edge of a very dangerous precipice.
Less dramatically in the world of Art we have to ask ourselves what is worthy. I look at the picture below and for me it tells a story. In terms of composition it's okay, not brilliant, but in terms of asking too much of the camera it is right there. The telephoto works but the sharpness of the image fades. Sometimes I like it because the camera produces an image that looks like a painting...but it's not great photography.
Normally I would discard or even delete a picture like that but to bolster my wandering thoughts on the subject of art I was glad I stored it in the cloud and could pull into this page. Compare above at the limit of the camera throw and below well inside the comfort zone of my not very expensive very useful all round Panasonic FZ300:
Which brings me to the question of Art and story telling. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth is one of those ideas that has been around ever since a storyteller inspired the audience to slap their brow and say that happened to me! We still get the revelation when we read a book, those of us open enough to enjoy fiction! - and see the story unfold in a way that reminds us of ourselves. It's the willing suspension of disbelief that is so striking about fiction. How is it we allow our emotions to override the knowledge that the story is fake? Some smart person made it up, made it credible and we readers lap it up because we know it could be true.
I find myself in an odd position, suspended from a thread called Key West that people want to read about and more importantly to see pictures of, a place and a time that calls to them. I have deliberately avoided two areas on this page and one is obvious: no journalism simply because I am no longer one. I saw the writing on the wall a long time ago though what got me off the radio was the descent of pre-Internet news into trivia and gossip which did not interest me. Nowadays journalism falls prey to Craigslist and Facebook and loses income once again thanks to free Internet. Free that is, if you overlook advertising which used to go to the journalist's organizations, in print most especially.
The other area I avoid is the prurient. Unless I first read it somewhere else I don't write about the local scandals and gossip and even then for me it is mostly in passing. This is a small town and hides in Key West are rather delicate you will find, grudges are held close to the chest and deployed for revenge only when needed. The life i like is I think reflected quite accurately in my pictures, my snapshots taken while trailing my active dog usually. I like the weather, the water, the architecture, the open mangrove vistas, the colors, the food and the parts of my life not recorded here so much.
Is it art? I have no idea. I enjoy testing the limits of my camera, branching out a bit more as time goes by, but in my head it still feels like snapshots to remind me of this day or that place in my diary. A lunch with friends afterward, a nap with Rusty, dinner at home with the wife, a quiet night at work or a horrendous night at work with endless 911 calls... The serenity I find here balances the rest and if it is Art so much the better. If it helps you find a truth that would surprise me but good. I walk rolling like a drunken sailor with a cane but with the constant improvement I hope to be back to normal soon. And I shall improve by virtue of the walking, the dog, the photography which are all part of my recovery.
If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over lies, he would never accomplish anything.
For Art to be Art it has to be seamless, not questioning itself, or explaining itself or postulating alternatives to it's own truth. It is; therefore it is Art. Standing there panting in the middle of the road as Rusty trotted off without me, tired of my slow pace, I looked down and saw Art. Centerline paint worn and lumpy like bad custard slopped in the roadway, chipped like porcelain. I photographed it almost as a reflex, seeing what I saw but not sure why it appealed. I looked back at the picture and I found it telling me stories, the effort to pave and paint this lonely half unused road, the mark of human civilization in the wilderness, the permanence of impermanence and the art found in banality, and all sorts of wild and lofty thoughts. I had no idea how to use the image that struck me that way but I just liked to look at it.
So there we have it. Enough navel gazing for a while and on with the picture taking, the snapshots, the learning to walk again, coping with unusual heat this February, wondering how we will cope next year when access to the city is reduced to one lane each way as bridge works at the Triangle occupy everyone's mind a year or more before they begin. And that's not surprising because traffic this winter has built to an unsustainable crescendo of jams and back ups and slow lines of vehicles winding through the Keys.
The whole question of Art and other esoterics disappears in a cloud of invective and pondering the reality of life in a snowbird economy. But as long as I can escape like this what do I care? Leave home early, don't get bogged down at work and remember that Rusty's happiness is what counts. I exaggerate but this is Art so the truth lies somewhere in the middle.