Peter J. Blackburn discusses the concept of sincerity in our work especially as it relates to modern technology – feel free to leave your comment.
Prolegomenon: prefatory remarks ; specif: a formal essay or critical discussion serving to introduce and interpret. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary
So help me if another person, well meaning or not, hands me a cell phone to show off some “must see” picture or “really cool” shot, I will immediately slip into a straight jacket and eternally bang my head against this tripod mounted Rolleiflex posing next to me. Seriously! Phone images, thumbnails, and all the mini marvels stored on wacky-whiz pods everywhere might enthrall the masses, but they simply leave me shivering in the cold.
Speaking of shivering, are you not aghast by all the phone apps for photography, including alternative processes? One app simply asks you to feed your digi-widget an image, press a micro button, and out cranks a cyanotype blue picture complete with brush fringe and faked imperfections. Oh, please help us all. Has the planet been commandeered by a renegade brigade inflicted with ADD?
If you are reading this essay, then you’re probably part of the alternativephotography.com community. A gathering of photographic artists who appreciate, embrace, and celebrate the SINCERITY of our processes, our materials, and select portions our photographic heritage. We tend to approach our work with honesty and integrity, where the final print is far too important—much too revered to be entirely dependent upon automatic, electronic, techno-toys. I would like to believe our work originates from the heart, not from the mindless impulse to indulge in the fads and fakeries of the moment, tempting and beguiling as they are.
For me, nothing compares to beautiful cotton paper and raw pigments combined with a deliberate rational course of action and sincere physical—analog, if you will—effort. When I see a well executed van Dyke, gum, or platinum print, I think of the time, sweat, and tears an artist spent to give life to that piece. The best prints are birthed from a dynamic conception, not merely booted from some computer desktop gadget. And when I hold that print in my hands, allowing the light to gently reflect the subtle textures and sublime tones, I am personally touched in a way which leaves all the ubiquitous iPhoto-graphs as cold, repugnant twaddle.
Does the rendering of our alternative images as electronic representations on the web equally disturb me? Well, to be honest—yes. Yes it does. We tend to equate all we see on the web as the sum total value of an image when in reality what is portrayed on our monitor is grossly inadequate. We not only lose the ever so essential tactile experience and subtle traits of an electronically rendered image, but the photograph itself has, I believe, even lost a significant measure of dignity. And yet, if it were not for this site and the treasure-trove of photographs embedded within, the span of my alternative photo knowledge would be deeply diminished. Nevertheless, if we who claim to understand and value the FINE in fine art cannot control our own fawning tendencies toward cheap web image chicanery, then how can we criticize all the blight, all the banal contraptions embedded throughout this technical free-for-all, and the vast, unwieldy visual slums splattered from one URL to the next—Facebook included? Perhaps if our monitors took more of the shape of a kitschy circus tent instead of an authoritarian rectangle, it would be a bit easier for us to keep a proper perspective—and a healthy distance.
Oscar Levant, the gifted and idiosyncratic pianist of another generation once said, “There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line.” Likewise the line between brilliance and lunacy in the frenzied world of technology is constantly morphing and moving—driving issues such as SINCERITY back to the far reaches of some cavernous garage featuring countless entrances, but few if any exits.
Whether you agree or not with my viewpoint here is not the issue. I am fully aware of the Pandora’s Box I have opened. Nevertheless, as part of this prolegomenon series, I only wish to especially encourage the beginning artist to consider the role of SINCERITY in your work. Modern technology certainly has an appropriate place, although the exact location seems to move from place to place like the little rubber ball in an elusive three-shell game. The question is will it serve you as a legitimate tool or detour you toward uncertain paths which could undermine your goals? Do you consider the results of your toil as mere “Show Time” in the tradition of P. T. Barnum or rather as a humble opportunity—a unique privilege to manifest thoughtful, creative, and SINCERE imagery which sustains or even raises the cultural and spiritual bar of your audience? Can safe harbor ever be granted to faux of any sort in alternative photography? I suspect this issue will be just one of many perpetual tensions which will try your patience and frazzle your wits. If you are to become a serious artist, then welcome the tension now and let the grappling begin.
I know others will wish to add to this discussion and so I invite my readers to join in with their own helpful insights. The next prolegomenon topic will address the value of criticism and self evaluation. See you then.