Photographers and Writers: Influencing Each Other

16 September 2011

Lens:

Reflection, 2011; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2011

Pens:

Our earliest artistic imprint (that we’ve discovered) was found on cave walls in Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, France, and created over 30,000 years ago (see the YouTube trailer about the drawings at Chauvet: “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNlxiJFvwUA). This need to tell the story of nature and human nature has never wavered, and our desire for self-expression manifests itself in a myriad of guises. As a result our creativity and imagination keep pushing the boundaries of each generation’s legacy.

As we know, technology’s continuous innovation has had a staggering effect upon art and cultural history. The nineteenth-century invention, for example, of the camera created a stir. The “new” excites, but it also throws into question the cause-and-effect conundrum. For almost two centuries the intersection between society and technology created a discourse that placed the photograph smack in its pathway. The still print raised red flags with art critics and pundits predicting the demise of painting. Sometimes the discussion was prompted by the question: Was photography fine art?

These controversies were challenged and discussed by artists, historians, philosophers, photographers, and writers. Their views began to be printed in the 1830s, and some of those early debates continue to be batted throughout today’s cultural and historic corners.

Part of the bantering in photographic circles was around an image’s authenticity, which has heated up more and more with “photoshopping.” Is this massaging of the image much different from manipulation in the darkroom? I think not. The opportunity to alter the original has been there, and the staging, for example, of some Civil War photographs makes some cringe. Enter filmmaker Errol Morris and his recent publication, Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography (2011), which debates the truth in moving and still images.

In the midst of reading Vicki Goldberg’s Photography in Print (1981) I realized how many photographers use the pen to define their creative process or comment on the state of photography or introduce ideas about other photographers. While most of the book’s seventy-five essays are by critics and pundits, there are some by well-known photographers (i.e, Ansel Adams, Weegee, Robert Frank, Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbott, Paul Strand, and Minor White). Their commentary is from the creator’s eye, which adds rich flavor to the debate and dialogue. Rather than leaving their art to be viewed as art for art sake, they entered the forum. Still, other photographers are satisfied to let their work speak for itself.

Then I began to wonder how many writers used the camera for self-exploration: an interdisciplinary approach to their inner muse. Suddenly, I remembered a short book titled Eudora Welty as Photographer (edited by Pearl Amelia McHaney, 2009) where Welty talked about the photographer’s need to be aware of the “moment of time.” She used some of the same aesthetics in her photography that she employed in her fiction.

To me the following passage from Welty’s powerful nonfiction book One Writer’s Beginning (1983) describes her fiction writing in a way that relates to taking a photograph: “Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer’s life. This has been the case with me. Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized for themselves connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising still, proven now through retrospect.”

The Web offers us an opportunity to mount our affinities for personal fulfillment and share with a global network of users. Today you can find writers who explore their talents as photographers and writers, dancing their fingers  across the keyboard to express their experiences, observations, philosophy, and techniques about their images.

For me the beauty of the Internet’s power is the chance to curate one’s own work. I see my site as a space to use the Lens section to showcase a week’s photograph or two. Usually the photograph has no relationship to the Pens section. But sometimes it does, which gives me a blank tablet to fill, similar to writing an essay for a catalog: all at the touch of a key that sends my ideas and words across a vast arena of possible viewers. It’s an astonishing chance to meet other photographers and writers, especially those from other countries: what a benefit from cyberspace’s seemingly limitless landscape.

A photographer’s written explanation and observation can field new insights into their art and way of seeing; writers also can photograph their world and beyond to open new vistas into their writings. I  believe that these two approaches of self-narration are intertwined. To examine the way more than one art form can push our passion is worth consideration and exploration.

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