“What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they would do one thing: get rid of the extraneous.” Do you know who said that? It most definitely was not me if that was what you were thinking.
William Albert Allard is one of my favorite photographers and a role model of mine. I have learned many things by studying his work. Recently, I was enjoying an interview in which Allard was discussing his career and his photographic style. His words, coupled with a number of thoughts that had been buzzing around my head lately, inspired this post.
There is beauty all around us, from the budding spring growth to the raindrops trickling down the windshield of our cars. What role do you play in that beauty? Although I am sure there are many answers to this question, I have come to see it as either one of these two ways.
1. You are an agent of the beauty.
Perhaps you built a towering building, or you cooked a delicious meal. Maybe you had a child, or planted lilies in your backyard. When you are experiencing this beauty, its existence is contingent on your involvement.
2. You are an observer of the beauty.
Perhaps you witness the disk of the sun descend below the ocean horizon, or you see a cardinal land on a branch of a nearby tree. Maybe you drive by a wedding ceremony, or see moisture droplets clinging to a spider web. When you observe beauty, its existence is independent of your involvement.
For most of my photographic journey, I have concentrated on way #1, feeling as though I carried sole responsibility for refining the allure of my images. I’ve crafted them in post-processing software and agonize over every element, from a person’s iris sharpness to a cloud’s clarity. But I realized something recently. Photographers and artists of every kind have a responsibility; we are tasked with preserving the beauty of this world and to share it with others, now and into the future. If every photograph is distorted, altered and edited, then how will the next generation know what it was like to see in 2017?
Take for example early television technology; although logically everyone knows the world appears similar today as it did in 1950, I for one cannot help but mentally visualize those times as being in static black and white. The distortion caused by antiquated technology affects the way we remember a specific time. Although this is, at times, unavoidable, I would argue that it is important to capture the beauty around us and preserve it the best we can.
I will continue to retouch facial blemishes and add contrast to photographs of my puppy’s fur, but I am also going to try and take William Albert Allard’s advice and “simplify.” I am going to try and find a balance between creating beauty and preserving it. What about you?