Sunday, August 10, 2008

Stewing in my head


It is hard to organise my thoughts and what I learned from my last trip. I know the trip refreshed me. I know that I grow more confident in my visual language. But did the earth move for me? In spite of going through the toughest workshop in my life with d'Agata, I think not. But I do think that some things are becoming clearer in my mind, but not in a coherent manner. So here is a stew of ideas, in no particular order.

D'Agata pushed very hard the idea that engaging images need a certain tension in the images, maybe conflict, maybe pain. The process of photography becomes a means of dealing with inner conflict. But it is not necessarily reality. The wonderful thing is that fantasy and reality can mix to create images. I appreciate strong images, images demanding an emotional response from the viewer from the rawness of it. But I also believe in beautiful images, those of Arno Minkkinen or Jock Sturges. I appreciate very much that d'Agata pushed me very hard to create compelling images, but I am not sure that I could continue to keep the wounds of my soul open for artistic exploration. It is a double-edged sword, which can bring understanding or despair. But I understand, that it is important to continue exploring and engaging myself in the process of image making.

On a side note, there was a class led by Bob Sacha about creating multimedia. One of the projects was an interview with Arno Minkkinen. In this interview, he says that his mother was very beautiful and he has always felt rejected by her because he was not beautiful. But Minkkinen has created such wonderous self-portraits, which I think are beautiful. So there is more than one way to deal with inner pain and conflict, to embrace the conflict, or to sublimate it.

My second instructor was the war photographer, Antonin Kratochvil. His father was tortured by the Czech authorities and he had to escape to the west with his family. He has seen many wars and atrocities. And his images are very strong, and challenging as well. But he does not feel that strong images come only from conflict. And he is still hopeful of humanity. I think that revelation was worth the fee of the course, and it had nothing to do with photography, but it had everything to do with life. I think Antonin did not teach as much as inspire. He was very jovial and joked a lot. But like Antoine, he was interested in seeing how far the students could strip away the layers hiding the inner truth.

I know that there are photographers like Andreas Bitesnich who shoot nudes because of the beauty of the human body. But to photographers like d'Agata and Kratochvil, the naked body is a way to get closer the truth and vulnerability of the human condition.

One comment that Kratochvil made, I like a lot. He explained to the class that he is a black and white photographer. And to him black and white is not reality. This struck me like a ton of bricks. For me, for a long time, I thought that shooting in black and white created an air of documentary truth. And I think that black and white enables the viewer to see more clearly the truth of the human condition, but it is an act of abstraction. And it struck me that last year, when I took Anders Peterson's course, he purposefully kept his camera simple, and his shooting technique simple. But he burned and dodged his images heavily. He added a lot of vignetting and darkened the lips of people he shot. This is not reality! But this is 'real' because the image lays the soul of the subject bare, but it is not what we see in front of us, in real life. I think that it reinforces for me the idea that all photographs are abstractions, even documentary photography. What is an image anyway, but dots? The truth for me is the interaction between the image and the viewer. The photographer is always a creator, even in the simplest ways of choosing a film or a lens. But the image a photographer creates, needs to be informed by some reality or fantasy, that is strong enough to convey a human truth.

I emailed one of my classmates from Anders Peterson's class about my experiences this year. And he commented that Antoine d'Agata and Anders Peterson are special people, with special lives. And he just admits that his life is more mundane. But he hopes that he can still have the same approach in his photography. I think this applies very well to me too. My life is not extraordinary in the greater scheme of things. But it is important to live my simple life well, and always push the photographic craft.

I am gaining confidence in my own photography. But perhaps the real journey begins here. This is where I find something meaningful to do with what I have or not.

1 comment:

ShutterBug said...

Thanks for sharing this Heng...

it's indeed mind-boggling to realise the idea that even B&W photography is not an absolute 'reality' as we are all accustomed to.

Different people, different level of experiences produces different types of feel to their photography which is signature.

Keep at it my friend! I'm very sure the next level is in sight.