Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Photography as an Art

THE GREATEST OBSTACLE the modern photographer encounters is his adherence to an idea that the camera "holds a mirror up to nature," that it is "true to nature." If that were so, photography would be for all times contained among the sciences and debarred from art. For nature is never art, nor does nature as a whole ever affect us as art. In art we are dealing strictly with the mental and emotional faculties more or less developed in each individual. These faculties respond when, on a flat surface such as paper, we find certain emotional and intellectual records of things we have seen or experienced in nature. And it is the manner in which these records are made that affects us as art. Every stroke, touch, spot, and patch of light and dark governed by the mind and hand of the artist interprets first an emotion, second a meaning. In this lies the province of art. The "mirror of nature," as expressed by photography, is a cold, impersonal, undesirable tracing of certain facts reproduced by pure science — heartless, uninteresting. Its value is wholly scientific, and it deals with only one kind of truth. There is nothing impressionable or impressive about it. Pictorial art is strongly emotional. It exists to give pleasure and at the same time knowledge; not such knowledge as the dissecting sciences impart, but the kind inherent in music, poetry, literature, religion.

Nature in itself has nothing to do with art; it is only the quarry, the reservoir out of which material for art can be taken. It is plain, then, that "true to nature" cannot refer to the comprehensive truth, but that of necessity selection of truths must be resorted to in any event. This being so, the phrase "holding a mirror up to nature" is evidently meaningless from the standpoint of art, and "true to nature" must be understood as referring to a phase of nature of which we have become conscious.
Art principles in portrait photography (1907), by Walter Beck, p. 18-19

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