For many, first exposure to my work brings bafflement. I frequently observe phases of discovery
flash across faces as they work through the process of understanding what it is they are viewing. Not
the material presented in my images, but the processes. More sophisticated viewers — even those who
use the same tools as I — pause to confirm their suspicions. Often with a knowing nod, equally as often
with a quietly mouthed "fantastic," "awesome" or "incredible."
I’m sure all artists develop ways to cope with this discovery process. As a self-taught "arriviste", I
was more likely to explain my work with the timeworn "I don’t know if it’s art, but I know what I like" than
a rounded discourse on influences, technique and rationale. The more I was exposed to the honest,
innocent question: "What is it?" the more uncomfortable I felt about not having a more developed
answer than "It’s photography, actually."
Finally, help arrived in the form of a special number of "The Photo Review" devoted to celebrating
"Camera Work," the quarterly publication initiated by Alfred Stieglitz at the turn of the 20th century. An
essay by Peter Bunnell explained what made the work of Stieglitz and his contemporaries different. Just
as the Impressionists had moved away from strict representational painting, Pictorial Photographers
worked to "dissociate their work from the look of applied photographs … and to make photographs that
mimic works of art in other media." According to Bunnell, the Pictorial movement "reflected deeper
social concerns and aesthetic values and these should be seen as their linkage to the world of art." This
would also seem to mirror the Impressionists. And therewith, I feel comfortable my chosen method of
visual expression is, legitimately, art.
Of course, I don’t hold myself in the same company as Stieglitz. But I do feel the same need as he
to educate about the validity of my form of artistic expression. Today, more than a century after Stieglitz
began his quest, it is not unusual for the more "traditional" artists to deride or scoff at an artist who uses
a shutter release, mouse and monitor rather than a brush, pencil and easel. Now, armed with this
historical basis for my aesthetic choices, it will be much easier to have ready that important discourse
on influences, technique and rationale — at least for those who wish to discuss it in more depth.
Pictorial Photography Essay
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