Snapshot or art? by Studio Rivy

“What's the difference between a snapshot and art…when is a snapshot just a snapshot?” To properly answer these two questions, one must ask a third. What is art?

Webster's (1828 English Dictionary) gives a lengthy and somewhat broad definition (see bottom of page):

Researching the meaning of "art" throughout history will unearth an ongoing debate. Until the 17th century, art referred to any skill or mastery and was not set apart from craft or science. In modern usage after the 17th century, where aesthetic considerations become paramount, the fine arts emerge prominently above other acquired skills in general, such as the decorative arts, and applied arts i.e. graphic design, fashion design etc.. 

The earliest sense of art was broad, roughly equivalent to "skill" or “craft” (in keeping with the old Latin meaning), as associated with words such as "artisan." The specifics of what constitutes art have evolved over time, but general descriptions still refer to an instance of applied imaginative or technical skill. Art has been further defined as a vehicle for expression and communication of emotions and ideas; as a means for exploring and appreciating formal elements for their own sake. Concepts such as creativity and interpretation, are now contemplated in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics. One can not argue that the nature of art, as philosopher Richard Wollheim states, is "one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture". (demopublic.magnolia-cms.com)

Art is something that stimulates an individual's thoughts, emotions, beliefs, or ideas through the senses. Often, if the skill is being used in a common or practical way, such as taking a snapshot at a family event or building a table, folks will consider it a “craft” rather then art. When I hear the word snapshot, I tend to think of a quick, carelessly taken image and appreciate Richard Avedon’s words, as they help to clarify some of my thoughts. "Anything is an art if you do it at the level of an art.” (brainyquotes.com

Several of the images in “The Americans” by Robert Frank, might be regarded as mere snapshots. Take for instance ‘Elevator’ and ‘Trolley.’ They could initially present as snapshots, but they are widely accepted as art. Why? Because these images do stimulate one's thoughts, emotions, a sense of a time and place, etc..

This leads us to the question: how do you draw a distinction between appreciating a masterful work, and simply reading too much into an unworthy image? 

I believe that, just as the appreciation of art is subjective, so is the awareness of stretching too far to apprehend it. Only the creator of the image can determine if our accolades are “too much.” Only they may truly know what intention inspired or what message was hopefully conveyed by a particular work. 

I found a wonderfully, cryptic quote on mentalfloss.com, by R.G. Collingwood - The Principles of Art (1938) “The making of a work of art - is a strange and risky business in which the maker never knows quite what he is making until he makes it.” Following this thought, an image may be undertaken with the intention of generating a work of art but fall short as a snapshot, tossed aside. Conversely, a photograph captured in the reflex of a quick snapshot might occasionally produce a masterful work of art. There are times that this determination will not be made beforehand, but rather in the face of its audience. 

In conclusion, if art is to be considered a creative, aesthetic expression, by way of communicating a feeling or message - not just an acquired skill - then, if and when, an image evokes deep emotion within the viewer’s senses, the image is art. Keeping this in mind, there will be times when the measure of art is unconcerned with the photographer’s intent, and the status of art is thereby measured by its impact. Snapshots on the other hand, if lacking an emotional thrust, aesthetic value, or the formal qualities of design, while a useful means of creating an external memory, are perhaps more simply measured by their printed dimensions.

Thanks for reading :)

Love, Rebekah xo

Webster's (1828 English Dictionary): “ART, n. [L. ars, artis.]

1. The disposition or modification of things by human skill, to answer the purpose intended. In this sense art stands opposed to nature.

2. A system of rules, serving to facilitate the performance of certain actions; opposed to science, or to speculative principles; as the art of building or engraving. Arts are divided into useful or mechanic, and liberal or polite. The mechanic arts are those in which the hands and body are more concerned than the mind; as in making clothes, and utensils. These art are called trades. The liberal or polite arts are those in which the mind or imagination is chiefly concerned; as poetry, music and painting. In America, literature and the elegant arts must grow up side by side with the coarser plants of daily necessity.

3. Skill, dexterity, or the power of performing certain actions, acquired by experience, study or observation; as, a man has the art of managing his business to advantage.”

 

Mirroring ... by Studio Rivy

A coherent work of art employs the fundamental elements and principals of line, shape, texture, value, balance, focal point, proportions, scale, illusion of space and rhythm. A photographer can greatly control how a subject is perceived by thoughtfully and intentionally manipulating these formal qualities of design, artistically.

Just as a musician or a painter renders a particular style by which their work is easily recognized at a glance, so it is with the photographer. 
Take for instance Richard Avedon, his images are highly influenced by his person. When you see one of his photographs, you know right away it is Avedon’s work. There is something very naked and raw about his images causing his subjects to appear stripped of all masks and barriers. His images seem to reveal a deeper sense of humanity, intense, accurate and personal. One of Avedon’s famous quotes (found on brainyquotes.com) reads, “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” This philosophy is clear throughout his work.

In Avedon’s images, it feels as though he is looking directly into his subject’s person as they peer back into him, like a mirror. His photos not only communicate a feeling of who the subject is and what they struggle with deep inside, but also an understanding of who the photographer is while capturing the subject. Avedon’s apparent presence in his photographed subjects brought to mind something I learned when my first child was born, called “mirroring”. Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. It often occurs in social situations, particularly in the company of close friends or family.

Avedon’s image ‘Ronald Fischer,- Beekeeper’, (link below) feels very much like a glimpse or perhaps mirror into Avedon’s own soul. The conflicted look in the model’s eyes, as though he wants to be known, transparent, and yet, almost arrogant and withdrawn. A dramatic, disturbing, nearly deathly and creepy image. It appears to betray something of a personal turmoil within the photographer, exposing itself through his work. His images display a masterful control over what he has intended to capture, scripting the impact he wants the viewer to walk away with. 

There is also something very dramatic about his work, and one gets the impression that he was a histrionic individual. His inner drama influenced his photographs and aroused a rough equivalent within his subjects.

I have only highlighted one photographer here, but in studying historical photographers’ images...I can clearly see how each photographer leaves an unmistakably personal imprint on their work. As mentioned above, we as artists take on our own styles and it is very much reflected in our work. We must remember that we have a responsibility to our viewers and subjects to portray accurate and honest impressions. When we are able to connect with our subjects and see in them the same struggles of humanity we recognize within ourselves, that seeing becomes a beautiful language, and our images speak powerfully!

Beekeeper link: http://ucresearch.tumblr.com/…/ronald-fischer-beekeeper-by-…


Looking into Mann ... by Studio Rivy

“Few photographers of any time or place have matched Sally Mann’s steadiness of simple eyesight, her serene technical brilliance, and the clearly communicated eloquence she derives from her subjects, human and otherwise – subjects observed with an ardor that is all but indistinguishable from love.”
– Reynolds Price, TIME (http://sallymann.com/about)

first learned of Sally Mann in the spring of 2014, while enrolled in one of my photography classes at RISD (Designing Through The Lens). After reviewing some of my images, the teacher urged me to watch Sally Mann’s documentary and take a look at her work. She told me that my family photographs reminded her of Mann’s series, Immediate Family (1992) 

It is fascinating how one’s path can meander, fork, or be led to stray, by a single encounter or experience, opening the soul to a whole new world. The class I took last year did exactly that. As I studied photographers I was unfamiliar with, such as Mann, I began to see my own inner passion for photography and a new direction presented in my life. I began to push myself to take images in a more abstract, less constrained way, which forced me to reach beyond myself. I saw many things differently for the first time, awakening a more openminded understanding of things I may have previously judged harshly.

Sally Mann was born in 1951, in Lexington, Virginia, where she lives and works today. Mann has explored color photography, but seems most strongly attracted to the use of black and white, also keeping alive many antiquated techniques and equipment. Her photographs are commonly shot with an 8x10 bellows camera, and the platinum and bromoil printing processes fits comfortably within her skill set. In the mid 1990s her use of the wet plate collodion process produced pictures that almost seem like hybrids of photography, painting, and sculpture. She has won numerous awards. The documentary film about Mann's family pictures was nominated for an Academy Award in 1993. Her list of publications include Second Sight, At Twelve, Immediate Family, Still Time, and What Remains. Her photographs are laced throughout many public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Sally Mann’s lifelong residence in the American South has produced a body of work through which she reveals her innate understanding of the region. Since the 1970’s, she has been prolific in portraiture, architecture, landscape, and still life. Her evocative landscapes and the intimate portraits of her husband and young children are esteemed works of great renown. The series, Immediate Family, features her three children. Within this collection, Mann frames a penetrating look into their daily lives, interspersing themes of death and latent sexuality.

Extraordinary, intimate photographs of her children reveal truths that embody the individuality of her own family yet ultimately take on a universal quality. With sublime dignity, acute wit, and feral grace, Mann’s pictures explore the eternal struggle between the child’s simultaneous dependence and quest for autonomy—the holding on and the breaking away. This is the stuff of which Greek dramas are made: impatience, terror, self-discovery, self-doubt, pain, vulnerability, role-playing, and a sense of immortality, all of which converge in these astonishing photographs.” (books.google.com/books/about/Sally_Mann.html?id=DEeVQmEACAAJ)

Delving into Mann’s work, I truly felt a connection to my own work and to my childhood. My own memories of living in the southwest, Oklahoma and Texas, with my nine siblings are stirred by her images. She recalls to me our barefoot lifestyle, running around playing house, acting as adults, wanting to smoke cigarettes (although my mother would have forbidden the thought). It was not uncommon for my younger sisters and brothers to run freely, naked through those long, hot summers. In the south it’s such a common thing. My mother has many snapshots of us kids running around undressed in the relaxed privacy of our yard. In Mann’s images her children seem very close, as if best friends. This is another attribute I can relate to from my childhood, and in raising my own children. I appreciate where she was coming from, and the beauty she apprehended in taking the photos of her children. 

One of my favorite images, ‘The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude’, by Sally Mann, 1987, is a powerfully dramatic image of boyhood surrounded by nature. The look in Emmett’s eyes is one I’ve seen so many times in my own boys’. It is as though he is annoyed by being photographed, yet he owns it by his posture, his glare, and the way his hands direct the flow of water, the eye of the observer. Strong and serious, his piercing gaze attaches itself to the consciousness of the viewer. My eye is first drawn into is his eyes, then to his hands, then to the reflective water, and up through the middle of the image to the lighter trees. Smooth; serious; feeling; balanced, and thoughtfully leading me through the picture, to the middle, into the distance, and back around to the boy.

The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude - Sally Mann, 1987

Now, as much as I love Mann’s work, I also want to add I do find some unsettling. For example, images of her nude children, ‘Popsicle Drips’ and ‘Rodney Plogger at 6:01’, did seem a little over the top sexually, and I could not relate to these. I believe parents have a responsibility to protect their children’s privacy and shelter them from exploitation. I’m not clear as to her thought process behind the images. In her collection, ‘What Remains’ (Bullfinch Press, 2003) the images strike me as being morbid and grotesque despite their artistic quality. Her study of mortality, turns my stomach as she escorts us toward the landscape of death. Nonetheless, I do admire Mann’s passion for examining life, as well as her fearlessness in exploration. I am inspired by its presence in her art. I hope to aspire to a similarly uninhibited creativity. Despite the controversial aspects of her work, I still find this quote to ring true:  

“Mann is now considered one of the most influential photographers of her time.” -Melissa Block” (NPR)

Mann’s emotional image ‘Damaged Child’ reminds me of a series I put together for my son back in the summer of 2012 as he underwent open heart surgery. I took photos (with my iPhone) at every step along the difficult way - prior to surgery, immediately after surgery and during the days of recovery which followed. My intention was not only to document the experience, but also to help my son (and myself) to heal emotionally, afterward. I knew while I was taking the photos at crucial life threatening moments, that it could be seen as an inhuman gesture. I was not trying to exploit his pain and suffering, nor make light of it in any way. His agony was something I had no control over, and as his mother, it was the hardest thing I have ever suffered through. I wanted to preserve the memories for us to look back on and remember the strength it took to weather those tormented hours and days. It remains an emotional series for me to view even today, but I am glad I was able to capture the photos which remind me so clearly of the joy we felt as he began to walk, and laugh and smile again. Recalling something I wrote elsewhere in this class, I feel that there is a beauty in looking back at images that are real and sincere, connecting with a time from the past that is somehow very present. History does repeat itself, even in the mundane, moment to moment steps we take for granted. Photographs help us to recognize and comprehend this. Sometimes in life we need to be reminded of pain, in order to appreciate pleasure to a greater degree. Here are just a handful of images from that series I call, Asher’s Journey. 

Above images - minutes after surgery.

You can see in these images below, confusion, pain, and distress he was feeling...

I adore this image of Asher (far left)...A hopeful expression in his face, looking up! He took the stickers off his chest and was so proud to be going home! Here is a link to a little slideshow/movie I made for him: ( http://youtu.be/KYsVtm9ZD2M )

I love this quote by Mann: "I'm just the opposite of a lot of photographers who want everything to be really, really sharp and they're always stopping it down to F64 and they like detail and they look with their magnifying glass to make sure everything's really sharp...I don't want any of that. I want it to be mysterious." - Sally Mann (NPR)

Much like Mann, I love to photograph nature and people, I believe I have a feel for both. My own work is constantly evolving as I discover more of who I am reflected in the subjects I capture. I fluctuate between fine art and realism with a camera in my hand. I would like my work to develop a little more surreal or ethereal feel to it, like Mann’s. 

To close, I am going to share with you some more of my work, some that resembles Mann’s if not in style, perhaps in emotion. Not all of these are taken with a good camera or lens, some are from my iphone, as that was all I had at the time. Also to note, the quality may not be the best on some, as they have been further compressed in making the collages. The 1st three images below, I had purposefully tried to make in a almost triptych style series...the others I just quickly put together for the purpose of this paper. I hope you enjoy! 

 

~ Family images ~