On Format and Presentation of Photographs
Back in middle school, there was a mural on the wall opposite the library, which was painted by a student who was coincidentally related to my family by marriage. It was a superb reproduction of Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte, by the French painter George Seurat. For seniors at my school, anyone taking a class in Visual Art was allowed to paint a mural. In retrospect, I do not know why I did not paint a mural on my senior year of school. It was a missed opportunity in leaving my mark somewhere.
Perhaps, it was a question of scale. Despite being more skilled than my relative (who merely copied a painting from the great masters), I think I was too lazy to accept such an ambitious undertaking. I mean, to be in school during the weekends, just so that I can complete the mural by the end of the semester was a bridge too far for someone like me. That being said, my relative is the one with her mark permanently on the wall of the school - not me - which is a concrete testament of commitment and accomplishment.
No amount of self proclaimed edge in talent means anything substantive in the real world. Without any lasting record of accomplishment, it is just hearsay. And, all the hundreds and thousands of sketches I made in all the many sketchpads throughout my adolescent years mean nothing anymore. I have lost them all to the passage of time, from one move to another. Fact is, I just never valued any of my creative undertaking enough, which is why none of my sketches, drawings, or illustrations ever stood the test of time.
Of course now in hindsight, it is easy to see why I never valued any of my creative undertaking enough to keep it for posterity. After all, none of what I did was created with permanence in mind - at least not intentionally. An illustration on a loose sheet of letter sized xerox paper, a detailed study in a faux leather bound sketchbook, or a technical drawing on drafting vellum - everything I did was for the moment… for the sake of recreation… and nothing beyond that. Any forethought of what it could have meant never crossed my mind.
What I prized, what I thought was a demonstration of skill and talent, and what I ultimately produced wasn’t an act of commitment. I mean sure, I had both the eyes and hands to create something of lasting substance. But, I really never had the heart to see it through. To be frank, loose paper and filled up sketchbooks all amounts to nothing more than a disorganized collection of amateurish renderings presented informally in a format that is too absent of structure to demonstrate any long lasting testament of accomplishment.
I mean, it is not as if I framed my work product. Nor, did I organize them in any way. But then again, why should I? It is not as if I had any intent to exhibit my labor of love. After all, my love of pencil and paper was personal in reach and recreational in scope. I drew, because I enjoyed it. And had I presented my work product formally, I would have been exposing myself to unwanted attention. As a result, I would have had to spend more effort in giving structure to my work and not just leave it scattered as-is in uncategorized piles.
What I did as an adolescent with my work product is not too dissimilar from the habits commonly practiced by most recreational photographers today. Many of us take pictures without much thought to how our photos will exist in real life. The form it will take and the manner it will be presented is typically overlooked. As a result, the majority of what we photograph end up accumulating in our hard drives, with perhaps a certain percentage of photos trickling from our respective photo libraries to various social media platforms.
For the most part, it is easy to see why this is the case. Generally, the taken photograph is regarded as the end of the picture taking process. Because of that, what form that photo takes and how it is ultimately presented is not important for most recreational photographer. So, that means a single well taken photograph is more than satisfying for most. And to that end, any thoughts of presenting that photo beyond a digital file could easily be overlooked during the course of congratulatory self recognition for getting the shot.
That said, I believe that limiting the objective of the taken photograph as the end of the picture taking process is shortsighted. How a photo exists in format and presentation greatly impacts the way it is received by others experiencing it. A photo can be more than just the image it captured. It can be appreciated as part of a series. It can also be printed and framed. Moreover, It can be published in books or in print media. And, it can also be exhibited as part of an installation. A photo can be so much more than just a social media share.
How a photo exists in real life determines its purpose. If it only exists as a file in your photo library, then it’s just memory in your hard drive. If it is shared on social media, then it’s just a passing post on someone else’s news feed - that’s assuming that the sharer of the post has friends or followers. However, if the photo tangibly exists in real life, then the photo can be experienced beyond the margins of on-screen aspect ratios and initial color configuration. That means the photo can be viewed as intended by the photographer.
The margins of on-screen viewing limits what one can see, not just in color, but also in scale and scope. When experiencing a tangible photo in real life, its rendering of color can be fixed and not entirely dependent on the viewer’s screen configuration. In addition, a tangible photo in real life can be set to a desired size, determined by the photographer. And last, a tangible photo in real life can be positioned within a sequence of photos, and thus be viewed in a linear progression of images or in context with surrounding images.
Alternatively, if printing your photos or publishing it in print media is not for you, then online publishing can be a more appropriate choice. In pursuing the digital approach, you can attempt to present your photographs by adapting traditional print methodology of presentation - albeit limited by the reduced margins of differing on-screen aspect ratios from varying viewing options. Admittedly, uniformity of user experience in presenting the desired scale can’t be controlled. However, ease of reach compensates for the limitation.
For me, online publishing was the most sensible choice, given the methodology of presentation, the prospect of a more streamlined work flow, and the potential of better cataloguing for my work product. Besides, it is not as if I required greater uniformity in presentation. The purpose of the photos on this online publishing initiative is to provide me a starting point for each blog entry. Essentially, it provides me an excuse to go on photowalks where I seek inspiration, from external stimulation, for the blog’s weekly discussion topic.
In other words, when I take a photo for this blog, I already have its form in mind. As such, I am conscious of the way these photographs are intended to be presented. Given the design of the layout, I need thirty-one photos at minimum, grouped into five sections of six images, taken at various shooting distance and one photo taken without the subject’s face - all accompanied by the title image, which is taken to accommodate the automatic cropping encountered when using the services of Squarespace and sharing on Facebook.
In following this scripted approach during the documentation process, the look of this online publishing effort can be presented with organization. As such, what I photograph gains purpose and meaning. This means that my photos do more than just take-up space on my hard drive or the social media news feed of others. In other words, it means my photos have structure, and therefore exists as a substantive testament of my commitment and accomplishment beyond just a loose pile of uncatalogued recreational documentation.
Accomplishing any creative undertaking of meaning beyond a casual interest requires devotion beyond mere recreation. The process does not end with an informal demonstration of skill and talent. Rather, that is only the beginning. In actuality, true accomplishment ends with a formal display of commitment in the selected format of fabrication and methodology of presentation. Anything less is just half-hearted in undertaking.
That said, my blog really only has a shelf life for as long as I foot for the annual web hosting package. It’s not as if I painted a mural. In any event, I have made my mark. To that end, I’m satisfied with what I have done.
Last, I know not everyone aspires for greater commitment in their creative undertaking. But if you do, consider printing and framing your work. Doing that will add another dimension to your overall viewing experience.
All images have been digitized on a Pakon F135, automatically cropped from full negative during the scanning process, and tweaked in Adobe Lightroom.