Photography: Intuition Vs Intellect

By Adrian Graham on 16 August 2017 — 2 mins read

My fascination with photography began as a child—the decision-making process of choosing when to press the shutter, and where to point the lens—the unpredictable magic of capturing an image. Cameras have always been objects of fascination with their ingenious, watch-like construction, and the tactility of the dials and controls. They’re alluring pieces of product design. Then there was the darkroom and—later—processing images on a computer. Either developing, or processing photos, provided a new world of storytelling and interpretation, where elements of an image could be accentuated or toned down to express a detail or feeling. Even after the finality of the ‘decisive moment’, there was room for a certain amount of interpretation.

Photography always was, and remains, a delightfully intuitive, but also intellectually stimulating craft. A photograph carries ideas, associations and thoughts along with it. It’s a wonderfully resonant, sometimes deeply philosophical media. It’s this combination of instantaneous appeal, combined with the Roland Barthes-like appreciation of the image as a semiotic document that gives photography its richness. Images are simultaneously ‘banal’ and heavy with signals; talking points that are quite literally frames of reference.

These paradoxical forces create a dynamic tension. The interplay between the seductive gloss and ruminative contemplation; between the existence of a photo as a mere documentary ‘fact’ and its potential to be an almost icon-like object of sentimental value, a doorway into our deepest memories. These parallel layers of simplicity and richness gives photography its edge—the nonchalance of the snapshot versus the crafted artwork. Like the dichotomy of choosing between colour and black and white—yet another photographic choice: the ‘purity’ of monochrome as an abundance of light or absence of it, in contrast to the banal reality of colour or the candy-coated appeal of over-saturated images.

These forces pull, one at another, echoing the intention surrounding the creation of the image—when and how it was taken, and the way it will be understood by viewers. Context is everything. A casual holiday snap, for instance, records a place. It assists our memory, but walking around the same city as a self-declared Street Photographer places a different burden on the photographer and how those images will be judged. Should it live up to more, as ‘art’, or just exist as a pretty picture. Every image exists within boundaries, labels and expectations. This is especially true when they have a defined purpose (such as professional and commercial images), but less so with casual snaps.

I’ve deliberately taken stylistically loose images, which is to say, photos that ape the random imperfections of snapshots, the ad hoc framing and inconsistent technique. This approach can go from playfulness into over-thinking, as it attempts to turn the unexpected delights of chance into a repeatable process. This highlights another tension in photography, the one between a carefree and spontaneous approach as opposed to a more formal, technically precise methodology. And, while some photographers see their cameras as mere tools to get their work done, others over-intellectualise their buying choices, and fetishize their equipment, turning their kit into a pseudo-religion. The church of Nikon, or Leica.

But—properly harnessed, these conflicting forces can be mastered to produce magical images that emanate beauty, energy, and profound meaning.

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