Sunday, September 27, 2009

What is important

I just finished reading the biography of Diane Arbus and her life is so fascinating and tragic. But it highlighted the truth of how difficult it is to have a career in photography, or arts in general. The biography revealed how difficult it is for even established photographers to make living. But what struck me was a statement she made to her students in the last class she taught, "Nobody is going to love your pictures like yourself".

This statement is so close to home for me. My dance photography has always been in an uneasy niche. It is too polished, too technical to be in the realm of art photography. It is too raw, too instinctual to be commercial. The pursuit of dance photography has been a solitary pursuit for me in Singapore, only appreciated by a small group of people who love dance themselves.

And now, as I search for new horizons in my work, I have been working on personal research. I have been trying to search for a greater insight into the life of everyman, to create the work that would demand the attention of other people. But in this pursuit, I have not been successful. It could be early days yet.

However, what appears to be an insignificant toy in photographic terms, the iphone camera, has been an obsession with me. The iphone does not take good photos in general, the exposure and contrast is off. But when images are filtered using the Helga filter in a program called camera bag, the iphone images mimic the effect of a Holga camera. And the images print very nicely onto an A4 piece of paper.

On a certain level, the images that I take on the iphone are eye-candy. With respect to the drama of human existence and its tragedies, the images are insignificant. But for me, the iphone has become a constant companion, a way for me to comprehend, interact and transact with the life I live. My iphone photos are a very personal vision of my life. And in as much as I am a human, an everyman, these iphonographs reveal my honest alchemy with the world in which I live. So I lead a relatively good life, at the present moment with personal strife or danger and relatively sedate, but it is my life. And I am absolutely enjoying the beauty, the humour, the textures of the things that I have been fortunate enough to come across. Like a friend told me recently, I do not need to be a drug addict to take good photographs... or in other words I do not need to lead a dysfunctional life to make art.

I do appreciate more and more the life I have and I live it more intensely. But I am beginning to realise that I cannot, should not and will not court the forbidden or the dangerous, just to take more impactful photographs. It would be well and good if I did live a life full of human drama, but to purposefully, unnaturally, add drama where there is none, would be deceitful and self-serving.

Even with its limited appeal, I am proud of my dance images. And even if some of the images that I now take on my iphone seems too pretty and superficial, I must protest that they are still the results of my relentless, dogged pursuit of life. And as I make no apologies for living my life well, I will also make no apologies for the overt prettiness of my images. For if you look at all of them, you will see that as a whole, I am constantly exploring what it means to be alive, what it means to grow old and die, what does it mean to remember living and what does it mean to forget.

So often photographers are under the illusion that they choose the images that they take, but the truth is that the images choose us. One photographer may love another photographers work, but each photographer will still have his or her own way of taking a photograph.

So to me, Diane Arbus was so right to say that "Nobody is going to love your pictures like yourself."

2 comments: said...

hi there, happened to chance upon your blog, this post is so well written it got me nodding away incessantly. lol.. i agree with so many of the points written, sometimes artists are too caught up with the whole idea of making art for the gallery that art becomes less and less accessible to everyone. so much so that many of them could've forgotten why they picked up a camera in the first place. like u, i bring my cheap little canon compact around... to capture the beautiful things and moments around me. and i so agree on that point about not having to lead a dysfunctional life to create art!! :)

Heng said...

Thanks for stopping by. :)