Sunday, February 26, 2012

Innovation in photography

My work has been criticised as lacking in innovation! This makes me wonder exactly what innovation in photography is.

Innovation is defined by Wikipedia as "the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a new idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself." 

Innovation in photography can happen at the level of the camera possibly, if one has the necessary skills, of building a unique camera set up; a friend of mine has done this. Johnny Watts, I remember meeting his father who was a scientist of some kind, has built his own "flying camera" which keeps him endlessly occupied with assignments around the world. Some of his work can be seen at ...

Yet, in an art context, innovation is likely to mean something else. Here the emphasis is probably going to be on new ideas. As a student, I still find myself learning the craft of photography and am wary about striking off into other avenues, of loosing the photographic notion that can be so easily supplanted by the ideals of art which may even subvert it. this might sound like a rather too stoical view yet Barthes in his work "Camera Lucida" that attempts to define photography and certainly succeeds in raising its' status as art, concludes that it should not be considered as art in the traditional sense since this would limit it's potential.

I don't think that innovation in photography is about using different processes. In my first P+P assignment, I experimented with filters at the processing stage, producing images that stand out and look different but perhaps do not really add anything more than that to the work. Often this approach can be gimmicky although there are of course photographers who work wonders in the darkroom; of these, Jerry Uelsmann  ... His skilful work began in the chemical darkroom where different negatives were combined to make fine art prints; these days, he is apparently working in the digital realm where his ideas can find an even freer rein with the controls of Photoshop.

I have done a certain amount of this kind of montaging in Photoshop and an image from this is shown above. This was done as part of a workshop and for me, borders on the lewd, while at the same time confronting the viewer with uncomfortable feelings that they probably experience anyway if Sigmund Freud is to be believed. Here the innovation is done to express a concept not for it's own sake. The photograph made below was pre-visualised and was not made with any particular concept in mind rather as an attempt to convey something such as the oppression of black people or just the suppression of women in society (I don't think an image needs to have a clear cut concept since if it did, one would not need an image and could rely on words alone!) The title "Lulu" is a somewhat oblique and ironic reference to an ancient skeleton unearthed in Ethiopia.

A dictionary rather than an encyclopaedic definition of "innovation" relates more to the idea of introducing something new. In many ways, I study photography because I am looking to express things that I am not able to do so in my present work which is largely concerned with the accurate representation of wildlife. I like to combine images to emphasise natural phenomena since the viewer is not being deceived and the image is still an accurate representation.

Short-eared Owl in flight (composite)
The photograph above is obviously a construct yet it still shows the way a Short-eared Owl flies, in fact it gives a kind of inside knowledge that photography sometimes makes possible.

For me, innovation may not be something to consider at the moment of capture (different camera angles are usually worth exploring though) but be in the manner of presentation, the way the body of work is assembled.


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