on intentions

Bandon, Oregon

“Art makers are not people who use a camera to record life so that they can see it in detail later.  The art maker is the person who specifically chooses to engage life more directly, most intimately, most intensely, and they use the camera to reproduce or record that feeling … ”  – Brooks Jensen, Single Exposures

If you ‘do’ photography, you cannot help but run up against the question, But is it art?  I have written in this space before that I think it’s a bogus question – Jensen’s quote goes some way to demonstrating why the question is essentially meaningless.  The key lies in the intent.

I often draw parallels between writing and photography.  Think about words – we all use them, to serve a multitude of purposes.  We make lists to help us remember.  Maybe we write reports as part of our jobs.  And every now and again, perhaps not often enough, we write a love letter.  Words are common to all of these, but it is our intention, what we are trying to do, that sets one apart from another.  Hopefully, we aren’t so incompetent with words that a love letter reads like a grocery list or that report for work sounds like a love letter.

Is photography art?  It depends – what were you trying to do?  I have said before that I struggled my first few days on the Oregon coast.  I righted myself, but understand better now what I was doing and why it wasn’t working for me.  I was taking photographs but honestly I was simply making a list of what I saw, so I might really look later when I had more time.  I certainly looked like I was doing photography – and it was not photography the way I want to do it.  I wanted to make my art, not a grocery list of what I saw.  I still walked the beach, carrying the same camera, but being clear about my intention changed everything about my experience, how I approached the subject, and how I used my ‘tools.’  (My enjoyment also increased exponentially.)

So what are you trying to do?  Is it working?  If not, it might be a matter of being clear about what you want to do and making certain that your methods serve your goal.


8 thoughts on “on intentions

  1. Hi Marianne I think the analogy of the intent for the use of words and use of a photography works beautifully. We all see far to many shopping lists and boring reports presented as a meaningful photographs.

    I am giving a seminar tomorrow to 100 photographers in the UK do you mind if I quote the essence of the idea with a reference to your blog of course?

    I very rarely reblog other peoples posts on my blog and I would be delighted to feature your post.

    Thanks and keep up the good work. Andy

  2. Hi Andy! I agree completely with MariAnne’s thoughts about simply making lists of the things she saw – these are just record shots. As she says, its the approach that matters – seeing things that grab our eyes and imagination, and then using our cameras as tools to record these things creatively, as we see them – to either record the magic as we saw it, or to build on it to ascend to still further creative heights. Thanks for reblogging this. Adrian

    • Thanks Adrian, you’re absolutely right about those being record shots and those kinds of shots have their own value – just like grocery lists. My problem was I was failing miserably and couldn’t figure out why – until I remembered I wanted to visit this area to make art!

      • I have just the same problems, MariAnne, and especially so when taking shots that I want to produce in mono – rather, that is, than finding shots sometime after I’ve taken them that will look good in mono.

        Like you, I really have to fight to keep remembering that I’m looking for art, not plain reality – for me its an all too easy thing to lose track of. Thanks for your very interesting post. Adrian

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