Photography and Creative Power

I’m reading Salman Rushdie’s Ground Beneath her Feet right now. I’m not very far in, so don’t ask me. What I do find interesting is that he chose a photographer as his narrator. I’m sure the reason for it will become clear if I get more than, you know, 15 pages in, but it got me thinking. On the one hand, photographers are, by definition, nothing more than observers. Light goes into the camera, and they capture it. That’s all. Passive.

But on the other hand, they create the world they capture on a far more fundamental level than any other medium. Poets create their own world (and the sea, whatever self it had, became the self that was her song, for she was the maker), but we expect that. We don’t expect to see the world in a poem. We excpect to see Wallace Stevens’ world. In a photograph though, we expect to see the world as it is, the thing-in-itself. But that’s not really what it is, is it? A photographer doesn’t just capture light, he chooses which light to capture; he chooses angles and colours and focus and arrangement. So they impose their own minds on their work and their audience in a far more powerful way than any other artist, because their audience is less prepared.

That’s all pretty cliche, but what makes it interesting for me right now (and, keep in mind, it IS 2 in the morning), is what happens when you combine that with Frost’s idea that through the imagination, you can actually reshape the world around you for your own benefit. Frost always leaves the implicit caveat that this reshaping is purely imaginary: you’re not actually making the moon a companion (Old Man’s Winter Night), you’re just calling her one to make yourself feel better. Photography, however, gives us a way to reshape the world, but then capture that reshaping in a concrete way, and even share it with others; even, sometimes, convince others that your reshaping is reality.

Then again, it IS 2 in the morning. I don’t know if that actually made any sense. I may delete this post tomorrow. But g’night for now everyone.

  1. Jay said:

    Interesting thoughts. Though I don’t like the idea that photographers impose their own minds on their work and audience in a more powerful way than any other artist. I don’t think having an unprepared audience means that their mind-imposing is more powerful.
    For instance, entire scenes can be created at will directly from the artist’s mind to show the audience, in painting. I find that to be a more powerful imposition of mind than photography.
    I’d say photography is more ‘tricky’ because the audience is unprepared to question the picture. They don’t realise that elements of the picture can be shown differently and Picture Proof is rarely questioned.
    But I still think the direct creation arts have a more powerful link to the artist’s mind than photography does.

    • Julia said:

      I think maybe you misread me. Yeah, I completely agree that other artists have a more direct link between their imaginations and their work. However, other artists, rather than showing you the world, show you their take on the world. It’s like the difference between giving you a book and writing an essay about it. Photographers, on the other hand, show you the /world itself/. Their choices impose their imaginations on the /world/ as they present it to you, rather than an itnerpretation or critique of the world. Like the difference between an original and a translation of a book.

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