Photographs tell us what is important.
When you ask people what possessions they would rescue from their burning house, one of the most frequent answers used to be the photograph album. Now, in the digital age, it's just as likely to be their cell phone or computer. How interesting it is that, in a panic, we may value our photos even more than our jewelry or other personal items. The impulse to immortalize our memories is a powerful force, because it's the people and events in our lives that are most important. And it says much about the role photography plays in our daily lives. Photographs are our stories, and provide the timeline of our lives, and the texture of our legacy.
A Quick History
The seeds of photography began in the 17th century, with the invention of camera obscura devices. This was an invention that was primarily used as an aid to artists in drawing and painting. But it was not until some 200 years later, when a camera obscura image was exposed to light-sensitive materials, that the photographic camera came to be. The French artist, Louis Daguerre, was the first to develop a commercially viable photographic device, using what came to be known as the daguerreotype process. But this process required the image to be 'etched' onto a metal plate. Concurrently, in Great Britain, a man named W.H. Talbot developed a system which allowed the image to be printed onto a chemically treated paper backing.
Eventually, the discovery of new materials allowed the exposure time to be reduced from hours to seconds. And then, in the mid-20th century, the development of color film led to photography's widespread interest among the populace. With today's digital smartphone technology, although we may not all be artists, we all do enjoy taking and collecting pictures. In a sense, our cameras are like our very own, personal 'time machines'. After all, they allow us to dwell upon, and then revisit, those special moments in our lives.
Photography as Art
Still, it's certainly a stretch to say that 'photography makes artists of us all'. After all, the camera is simply the tool we use to 'capture' an image. But there are many elements, such as lighting, exposure times, film speed, and perspective, that come into play to create a picture. And just like a painter's brushes and pigments, it's how we use those elements that determines the 'artfulness' of any photo. By manipulating these, and other elements, photographers can create stunning images that possess all the awe and emotional impact of any painting or drawing.
Of course, there are countless examples of great artists in the world of photography. One of my favorites, Ansel Adams, was an early pioneer of the landscape genre of photography. His black and white images of the American West are some of the most moving images I have ever seen. French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, was known for his 'street photography', and created stunning images of ordinary, everyday scenes. He was also, by the way, one of the first photographers to make widespread use of 35mm film, which became the de facto standard until the digital age. Many others, such as Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, and Yousuf Karsh, specialized in portraiture. And, of course, the list goes on and on. Whether landscapes or portraiture, or photo journalism, the works of the great photographic artists transcend the 'snapshot' photos that most of us take, and are truly 'great works of art'.
Photography plays an important role in my life as a painter. Many of my paintings are inspired by the pictures I take on my hiking and camping excursions. No matter whether painting or photography, we, as artists, always strive to create images that move and excite us, and that we hope will do the same for you.
Photo credit Tayu Hayward