I recently saw a Twitter post posing the question: “Has finding a decent photographer become harder or easier in the digital age?” What a fascinating topic (and one I think about often). With the low overhead and bigger/better/faster approach to digital photography, the flood of new photographers to the market seems to prefer a quick-and-easy methodology. Not that all photographers using a digital workflow have stopped thinking for themselves, but when there are countless computer programs, filters, and ‘actions’ that will simply do all the work for you- where is the incentive to be creative? A new photographer may have the drive to explore photography and begin building a portfolio, maybe even start a business. There’s no need to get an MFA- I sure didn’t. But instead of experimenting with technique, teaching themselves to truly see and create in an original way, and learning from their own mistakes- many of these new photographers fall back on the thoughtless crutch of pre-packaged digital editing tools. And that, I believe, is robbing them of their creativity.
I feel a real affinity to Cartier-Bresson’s tenets of photography. Not because someone told me to, but simply because he is able to describe a creative approach that I never really can. He stuck to one analog format (35mm, Leica), used one lens (50mm prime, of course), and never used a flash. In order to show his viewers that every image was composed “in camera” (meaning, there was no cropping or manipulation that happened in the darkroom), he included the edges of his negative with each print. I adopted these habits without really meaning to, but with shared intentions- to show my viewers the truth of my process, and reveal the purity of my practice. How exciting to see the simplicity of an organically created image!
"There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative," Cartier-Bresson says, describing his theory of “the decisive moment.” The digital age of photography has long abandoned this practice, trading it in for auto-exposure, auto-focus, multi-shot motor drives, etc. Though there is certainly a time and place to move fast as an artist, if you skip the step of intention and fore-thought, moving quickly typically results in thoughtless work. Probably because you've let your automatic tools think for you. Move fast all you want, but only because you and your camera have become such a united entity that you can foresee what is going to happen in every situation, accurately presume the correct exposure, pull in your focus and press the shutter at the exact appropriate time. That is not the definition of rushing- that is the definition of creativity.
As an exercize, try creating a final image completely in your camera- don't do any post-processing, don't use any digital tricks. Do it all on your own. And then, share it on our Facebook page so we can all see!
(photo credit: Zona Foto)