About five years or so ago, a friend asked me in the early morning hours, “What is a photograph to you, Niko?” I responded promptly by saying “A photograph is like a woman” or a man depending on your preference. I still abide with this metaphoric assertion and simultaneously find it to be a good recipe in lifting the veil.
There you are sitting at your favorite beverage establishment or library when you spot the person of your dreams. In this moment, you have no idea who this person is. Are they a serial killer? Can they carry on a meaningful conversation? Do they only eat organic? Is there empathy in their soul? Despite all of these uncertainties, you stood up and made contact strictly based on aesthetics and how things looked, to put it bluntly. If someone believes or says otherwise, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the shallow stigma is either a liar or in denial. Yes, Maria (m lovely girlfriend and soon to be baptized or it’s all over) ended up being, simply put, a wonderful person overall. Last night and every night was made possible not because I was initially intrigued by her intellect and kind soul; I was strictly going by looks, shallow, indeed. We can relate this futile but seminal proposition to anything, but the integral part of the story is that over a myriad of possibilities, the gaze becomes a thought, which motivates action. Attraction is what prompts you to stand up and approach a stranger with hopes that overtime you might end up watching Netflix together. Amongst all the others, you approach a particular person and in the past, you did the same towards another and sometimes things worked and on occasion, they did not; just like a photo. And each and every time you went by how things looked. Yes, I know that aesthetics can or are subjective, but they should aim to the common good which consists of knowledge and the simultaneous acceptance of facts.
It’s a nice Sunday morning, you get in your car or take a walk to enjoy the warm fall weather and explore your rural or metro environment with your best friend, your camera. At one point you stop and take a picture and out of all the locations, moments, instances and possibilities, you chose to capture a particular one. You did so because you recognized or were intrigued by the aesthetic possibilities of the moment, sometimes predictable and sometimes peculiar. Regardless of this metaphorical correlation, the aim or expectation during this subtractive process of framing was to create something aesthetically pleasing but at the same time simultaneously valuable. Engaging in a more substantial dialogue on a personal and universal level relies on some level of a visual intrigue. Many believe and rightly so, that aesthetics are subjective and people are attracted to different things, sometimes deviating from the conventional perceptions of what looks good. But again, I am using this as a metaphor. If aesthetics, technical and formal ability is eliminated you will never reach the ultimate goal, which is about a deeper dialogue.
I do not consider the formal qualities in a photograph to result in a photo of substance and purpose, but I do consider those qualities to be the foundation of grasping my gaze, making me want to get deeper into the frame and to learn about the photographer's psyche and personality through the photograph. I want to feel his/her pulse bouncing on the 2-D surface. I don’t want to read a ten-page essay about the reason behind the work but I do believe in the use of text as a supporting element to the image or a series of photographs. The text brings you closer; it’s about additional chemistry but it will never lead you to the image making.
Good photography has become intimidating and aesthetics in a photograph have become irrelevant and subjective. This is sometimes due to preserving some unknown legacy or maybe because the act of photographing exceeds the act of submerging into the environment and dialogue. It should be the other way around, but it isn’t. Just like when respectable magazines promote the same dull blast with flash vulgar aesthetic as the new thing, which pollutes my visual periphery. Again, good photography has become intimidating. If you eliminate, accept everything and omit constructive criticism, there is no point of having this or any conversation, and maybe, there isn’t one. And even worse there is no point in teaching the fundamentals of photography, both technical and formal. And if all is relevant and there are no standards what is the point?