the color of the sky
Photo: © Michael Wood
Photography may be the most revealing of the arts. On the surface, it seems so mechanical, but when you examine the way different photographers make their images, it is striking how much their work consistently reflects who they are and how they see. If you look at the body of work of the photographic masters, their images are as identifiably their own, as the works of great painters are identifiably their own. You would not mistake an image of Edward Weston’s to be one of Man Ray’s any more than you would mistake a painting of Van Gogh’s to be one of Matisse’s. This shows that mind is as important in photography as it is in the other arts.
Photographers go about their work with different intentions. For some, subject matter is primary—think of the work of Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, or Garry Winogrand. Others emphasize imagination and contrivance, for example the photographs of Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy, Richard Avedon, and Annie Leibovitz. Still others emphasize craft or technique. Ansel Adams is the quintessence of the photographic craftsman (although his subject matter and eye were also extraordinary).
Another approach to photography simply emphasizes uncontrived seeing. Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, André Kertész, Paul Strand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Adams stand out as examples of photographic practitioners of this type. Beaumont Newhall elegantly describes the intention behind this approach, “We are not interested in the unusual, but in the usual seen unusually.” Contemplative photography fits squarely within this tradition: it is primarily concerned with seeing, and faithfully forming the photographic equivalent (Stieglitz’s term) of your perceptions.
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