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Photography: Visual Poetry II

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Photography is part of us.

Being so popular is one of its strengths, but also one of its weaknesses. Anyone can not only see, but also take photographs, mostly because the technology is largely available to the average person as a means of expression for the masses. This comes in deep contrast with poetry that does not have the same democratic quality. The myth that anyone can do it is obviously false. In photography, art still remains a rare occurrence.  

These two contradictory dimensions of the medium still co-exist.  A photograph is a representation of reality and depending upon the personal vision of the artist, what is being photographed is not the same with what is being created.  An interest in a certain subject is often the reason photographers make images. Photography is a way for the artist to convey a specific meaning. 

An image has meaning when there is a relationship between subject, form and content.

The process of taking a picture means dealing with the presence of an object that exists prior to the image leading to objective repetition, in which photography is viewed as a copying effort, whereas the process of making a picture emphasizes the freedom of the photographer towards the object, in which photography becomes a true art form.

The  rise of photography to its artistic status is due to the early twentieth century avant-garde movements, Surrealism and Dadaism, through the introduction of the visual images that are closer to the workings of the unconscious (a theory based upon the psychoanalytical perspective of Sigmund Freud), and later through the experimental and conceptual work of many contemporary artists.  

Surrealism raised serious issues about the revolutionary role of modern art and its mission as a liberating force for the community.

In 1934,  André Breton addressed the question “What is Surrealism?” and defined it as composed of two “epochs”. The first, 1919–1924, was “a purely intuitive epoch”, which was theoretically based on the work of Henri Bergson on “mental images” and the second, 1925-1934,  “a reasoning epoch”. The first “epoch” was an idealist one, characterized by “the view that thought is supreme over matter”, while the second “epoch” was a dialectical materialist one, in which “the matter had supremacy over mind”  (Bate, 2003, p.2). 

Surrealism raised serious issues about the revolutionary role of modern art and its mission as a liberating force for the community. The predominant use of images in surrealism is mostly associated with the post-1925 period, when photography becomes a sort of complementary object for the surrealist literature. Although Andre Breton used photography purely as an illustrative art in order to eliminate most descriptions from the narratives, Man Ray took his work beyond the camera creating Rayography, his signature cameraless process.

Photography became a vital tool in representing the world.

Instead of recognizing the camera as a simple instrument and the photograph as a mere reproduction of reality, the surrealists used it as a tool of the imagination and viewed the photograph as a point of departure. The surrealists tried to capture the unknown by exploring the limitless boundaries of the subconscious, a world of psychical reality that could not be separated from the social and political environment around them. In this context, photography became a vital tool in representing the world.

Therefore, the surrealists were far from Romantic in orientation; they had little interest in mythical, dark or mysterious forces of nature. The surrealist photography ranged from conventional film stills, news, documentary and press portraits, to postcards, police, ethnographic and scientific photographs.

They used different darkroom techniques and various lenses to achieve certain effects, such as solarization or Sabattier, which produces a dramatic effect of patterns through the flushing of the light on the photograph altered in the darkroom. Another very popular processing technique that made its debut during surrealism is the photomontage (still used today), in which several shots are coupled together in order to create images with a surrealistic look. 

(to be continued…)

References

Orwig, C. (2010). Visual Poetry. Berkeley: New Riders.

O’Brien, M.F., &  Sibley, N. (1995). The Photographic Eye.  Worcester: Davis Publications, Inc.

Bate, D. (2003). Photography and Surrealism. London-NY: I.B. Tauris.

Osterman, M., & Romer, G. (2007, 4th Edition). The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography.  Burlington: Focal Press. 

Belt, A.F. (2008). The Elements of Photography, Burlington: Focal Press.

Taminiaux, P. (2009). The paradox of photography.  Amsterdam, NY: Ed. Rodopi. 

Geary, J. (2010, October 2). Metaphorically speaking (TEDTalks video). TED-Ideas worth spreading.

Ford, J. (2002, January). Photography as metaphor and symbol. A sharper focus on the work of William Wylie. Arts & Sciences Magazine at the University of Virginia. 

Shore, S. (1998). The Nature of Photographs. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Paz, O. (1991). The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, A draft of shadows (poem), p.437. NY: New Directions Books.

Valery, P. (2001). Le Discours du centenaire de la photographie (in Études Photographiques). Paris: Société Française de Photographie.

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Susanna Patras is an international award-winning fine art landscape and travel photographer whose images convey simplicity, elegance and a touch of mystery.

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