Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Optical vs. Aesthetic Reality

In The View from the Studio Door: How artist find their way in an uncertain world, Ted Orland writes about his early days as Ansel Adams assistant when he says he watched as Ansel manupulated the print in the darkroom to convert the optical reality captured by the camera into a deeper aesthetic reality.

I like that play of words....optical reality to deeper aesthetic reality..... and it has made me think about my work. When I look at the world my eyes see the optical reality but if I photograph it and print it "flat out" most of the time I'm not adding my emotional filter to the image. Whether it is in the darkroom or in Photoshop or with the camera itself, I need to do something more to convey my aesthetic reality. I want to make my own statement about the person or the place or the thing caught in this fraction of a second of time.


Tommy Williams said...

That is a fantastic way of expressing it. I've struggled to understand the idea of optical vs. aesthetic reality for a long time. In fact, for quite a while, I didn't even understand that there was a distinction. I was confused by the idea that the Impressionists were somehow more real than the painters who came before them. In my simplistic view of the world, photographs were the most realistic.

One of the critical things that a photographer -- making photographs as art, anyway -- has to deal with is getting people to let go of the idea that what they're seeing in the photo is, or should be, a faithful representation of reality.

So techniques like extremely wide angles, or diverging parallels, or wild size differences, or strange juxtapositions -- these are all heavy-handed ways to, first, get the viewers to let go of the idea that this is optical reality and start looking for the aesthetic reality.

Sadly, I don't do a good job of this at all, but even the act of writing this comment has, I think, helped me.

So thanks for posting this.

BillieS said...

Tommy, sometimes when I'm lucky, and I find my aesthetic reality of the image it turns out not to be reality but the essence. I wish I could nail it all the time. I can't. But when it happens, life is good.