Project 3, Research point: New Topographics

New Topographics: "a term coined by William Jenkins in 1975 to describe a group of American photographers (such as Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz) whose pictures had a similar banal aesthetic, in that they were formal, mostly black and white prints of the urban landscape."

Also the title of the exhibition curated by Jenkins at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY (October 1975 to February 1976).

Mitch Epstein, American Power

  • Many of these colour images have a formal structure. They have not been taken haphazardly but show attention to composition.
  • The scenery would normally be considered particularly photogenic in terms of classic landscapes, but there is nonetheless a beauty to many of the shots in the series.
  • Several of the images seem to have been shot from a viewpoint above regular line of sight—ladder? scaffold? pole? The extra height marks a difference from the usual snapshot at eye-level—does it suggest a different way to view the landscape philosophically, as well?
  • Most images contain a lot of detail and show considerable depth of field—the viewer is invited to take in a broad field of view rather than to concentrate on small points of focus.
  • The images explore very broadly the theme of 'power' generation and transmission associated with the energy industry in the U.S.
  • At the same time, the title 'American Power' could be an ironic questioning of the vulnerabilities of the country's political 'power' because of its dependence on fossil fuels and foreign sources, and because of the environmental degradation associated with the energy industry.
  • Some of the images are interesting as standalone documents, but together they form a narrative with a clear point of view.

Fay GodwinOur Forbidden Land

"Her love of walking eventually inspired her to pursue landscape photography, often photographing isolated and remote areas of the British landscape and producing many beautiful pastoral scenes as well as contrasting urban landscapes. President of the Ramblers' Association from 1987 to 1990, she was also renowned for her work as an environmentalist, her interest reflected in many of her best-known images that examine the complex relationships and tensions between man and nature." (Fay Godwin Archive)
  • Much like Epstein's pictures, Godwin's work in this series has been produced with great care.
  • All of the images have been produced in black and white—was this an aesthetic decision (documentary approach? emphasis on form and texture rather than colour?), was it due to necessity, or was it even a consideration at all?
  • The black and white approach suggests something more timeless to me than literal colour, but that may be my own bias.
  • Godwin draws attention to the separation of people in the U.K. from the land around them and to the degradation of the land. The theme is somewhat broader than Epstein's but the two probably share political sympathies.

It's possible that the work of these two photographers and some of the other New Topographers may have an influence on how I look at and photograph landscapes from now on. They point to something real that is happening to the land we share. If all we photograph is carefully framed to be pretty and shown to its best advantage, are our images 'true'? Are they a reflection of reality or do they conceal it? Or both at the same time?

Perhaps that is a good question to chew on: what do I choose not to photograph? And why not?

Project 3, Exercise 2: Holiday photos and motivation

My motivations for taking holiday pictures vary:

  • This is a famous place or view—I want to record it, too.
  • There is a detail or sign that I want to remember, so I will take a picture as a kind of visual diary.
  • I want to remember this view because of how it made me feel.
  • This is something that is new to me or not common where I live.
  • I want to have a record of family members on this trip. We will enjoy looking at these later. My children may appreciate that I captured a portion of their childhood, particularly once they are older and have children of their own.
  • I had some time to concentrate on photography, so I have taken more care with this image than I have with the others from this trip.

When I take pictures on holiday that are meant to be a simple record of a scene or happening, I do pay some attention to composition and lighting. When I am travelling with other people, though, I am always conscious that photography doesn't hold the same interest for them and try to get the shot quickly. When I am by myself I tend to 'work' the shot and will spend time considering how I frame it and use the light. If something is visually interesting I will spend time with it and make a number of exposures until I am happy with the results. A postcard usually offers an image of a scene under optimum conditions, but it is not drawn from my experience—and I suppose that must be important to me (I don't remember buying any postcards).

The images that give me 'more than just a record of place' have a visual quality that I would be happy to share with a broader audience. There is something in the image in terms of simplicity or geometry of line, the quality of the light, some humour or a human element that lifts it a notch above a snapshot. I regularly share these images online with people who weren't there and they frequently appreciate the same qualities that I enjoyed, sometimes spotting lines, patterns or expressions that I did not see. 

The debate about the value of snaps from phones and iPads rages on and I have to admit that I can see something on both sides of the issue. There are indeed a lot of mediocre photos being produced, but that has always been the case (the difference now is the volume, I suppose). At the same time, I think the democratization of photography has been a good thing and the value of an image should be related to its own qualities, rather than to the effort required to produce it. I know that I am generally happier with what I produce photographically when some thought and effort have gone into an image, but I don't know that I am always fit to judge another's thought or effort—let the results speak for themselves. I am more concerned with improving my own abilities than I am with the efforts of others (not that I don't have views on other people's images!).

Project 3, Exercise 1: Comparing telephoto and wide angle views

I'll make my comments based on the two images printed in the course manual.

Image A: wide angle

  • A large, white gate dominates the foreground and portions of a brown fence are visible on either side of the gate.
  • There is rubbish scattered on the dirt in front of the gate. Behind it is a large, grassy field with nothing in it.
  • Beyond the field, and below it, we can see the buildings (some high-rise, most low) of a city stretching far into the distance.
  • At a rough guess, the horizon is many miles away and the sky is partially cloudy.
  • The gate appears to be level in the foreground, but the horizon seems to slope slightly toward the right side of the frame.

Image B: telephoto

  • There is no sign of the gate and the foreground is now occupied by the buildings of the city that appeared to be some distance away.
  • The sky takes up less of the frame and very few clouds are visible in it. The horizon line seems closer and we can see buildings on it that were not perceptible in the previous frame.
  • We can see the distant objects in the frame with much greater detail.
  • Compared the wide-angle shot, the angle of view is much narrower and the perspective in the frame (front to back) is compressed quite a bit.

Project 3: A sense of place

In the case of Ian Berry’s images of Whitby, removing the people from the frames would take away a number of things:

  • a natural human interest in the subject matter;
  • a sense of the era in which the pictures were taken (based on clothing, glasses, hairstyles, etc.);
  • some identifiers about the place (people playing cricket and men in flat caps suggest a UK location);
  • an idea of the time of year (warm enough for sitting in the grass, wearing short sleeves and paddling in the sea); 
  • a sense of scale in the landscape, based on human proportions in it; and
  • a hint at why the photographer may have taken these images (to document people enjoying their leisure time together).

Without these indicators the pictures would be much less interesting and tell a very different story about Whitby: it would look quite lifeless and bleak.

When familiar figures are missing (pp.168–169) we are lacking crucial information that helps us to establish scale, depth, proportion and perspective. What would otherwise 'read' as three-dimensional appears flat and of uncertain size.

Project 2, Exercise 4: Photography and land art

The question posed in this exercise is whether photographs of a work of 'land art' are the documentation of the art or the art itself.

After working through the readings associated with this portion of the course (such as John A. Walker's piece on "Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning"), I am not sure that this is an 'either-or' question. Given the role that context plays in understanding the layers of meaning for a particular piece, it seems to me that the proper response is 'both-and.'

The original work of land art or installation is certainly a work of art, but so is the subsequent recording or documenting of the piece or installation. The original piece had its context—place, time, etc.—but any resulting photographs of the piece contain the results of decisions made about format, light, focal length, angle of view and framing. Artistic decisions have been made about what to include, what to leave in and how to present it. And the results of these decisions are then seen in a new frame, and a range of new contexts (particularly if the photographs appear in different settings and times), particularly when photographic processes are used to introduce the perspective of time to the way the work is viewed.

A good example of this is Keith Arnatt’s Self-burial (Television Interference Project). In this case, the performance doesn't really make sense unless it is seen as a series of photographs. A spectator watching the development of Arnatt's self-burial would have seen the artist climbing in and out of a hole that was being progressively deepened. It would have taken a long time and might well have been incomprehensible. Viewed as a planned sequence, however, the work takes on greater meaning as a coherent whole—as a photographic work more than as a live performance.

If anything, then, the photographs of a work of a land art are a new thing: based on the land art and sharing a kind of heritage or lineage with it, but a work with its own integrity and layers of meaning.

Research point: Documenting a journey

Paul Graham, A1: The Great North Road

http://www.paulgrahamarchive.com/a1.html

From the publisher:

Photographer Paul Graham spent two years completing this documentary on the life and landscape of the Great North Road. Throughout 1981 and 1982 he made numerous trips along the A1, crossing and recrossing the length of the nation to record every aspect of life at the verge of this great road. The photographs reproduced in this book build not only into a significant documentary of the A1, but also provide a thread along which we can travel the Great North Road, deep into the nation’s heart, and weave a picture of England in the 1980s.

Stephen Shore, American Surfaces

http://stephenshore.net/photographs/seven/index.php?page=1&menu=photographs

From the publisher:

In 1972, Stephen Shore left New York City and set out with a friend to Amarillo, Texas. He didn't drive, so his first view of America was framed by the passenger's window frame. He was taken aback by the fact that his experience of life as a New Yorker had very little in common with the character and aspirations of Middle America. Later that year he set out again, this time on his own, with just a driver's licence and a Rollei 35 - a point-and-shoot camera - to explore the country through the eyes of an everyday tourist.

The project was entitled American Surfaces, in reference to the superficial nature of his brief encounters with places and people, and the underlying character of the images that he hoped to capture. Shore photographed relentlessly and returned to New York triumphant, with hundreds of rolls of film spilling from his bags. In order to remain faithful to the conceptual foundations of the project, he followed the lead of most tourists of the time and sent his film to be developed and printed in Kodak's labs in New Jersey.

The result was hundreds and hundreds of exquisitely composed colour pictures, that became the benchmark for documenting our fast-living, consumer-orientated world. The corpus of his work - following on from Walker Evans' and Robert Frank's epic experiences of crossing America - influenced photographers such as Martin Parr and Bernd & Hilla Becher, who in turn introduced a new generation of students to Shore's work.

Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi

http://alecsoth.com/photography/?page_id=14

From the publisher:

Evolving from a series of road trips along the Mississippi River, Alec Soth's "Sleeping by the Mississippi" captures America's iconic yet oft-neglected "third coast". Soth's richly descriptive, large-format color photographs present an eclectic mix of individuals, landscapes, and interiors. Sensuous in detail and raw in subject, "Sleeping by the Mississippi" elicits a consistent mood of loneliness, longing, and reverie. "In the book's 46 ruthlessly edited pictures," writes Anne Wilkes Tucker, "Soth alludes to illness, procreation, race, crime, learning, art, music, death, religion, redemption, politics, and cheap sex." Like Robert Frank's classic "The Americans", "Sleeping by the Mississippi" merges a documentary style with poetic sensibility. The Mississippi is less the subject of the book than its organizing structure. Not bound by a rigid concept or ideology, the series is created out of a quintessentially American spirit of wanderlust.

Robert Frank, The Americans

https://steidl.de/Artists/Robert-Frank-1013194243.html

From the publisher:

First published in France in 1958, then in the United States in 1959, Robert Frank’s The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In eighty-three photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians, and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life. And it was not just Frank’s subject matter—cars, jukeboxes, and even the road itself—that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally, and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. More of an ode or a poem than a literal document, the book is as powerful and provocative today as it was fifty-six years ago.

Kevin McElvaney, #Refugeecameras

http://kevin-mcelvaney.com/refugeecameras/

Photographer Kevin McElvaney gave refugees cameras in Izmir, Lesbos, Athens and Idomeni. Of the 15 cameras he distributed, seven were returned and McElvaney displayed the resulting images on his website. The goal for the project was to ensure that refugees were able to describe their trip from their own perspective, rather than from the viewpoint of an outsider who did not share the experience. I found this a very compelling series and wondered how different our documentary and news narratives would look if they were told from within rather than from without.

24 Photography

http://www.24photography.org/about/

This project is organized around a rule of “24 hours. 24 photographers. 24 images. 24 years.” Starting in 2004, a collective of 24 then-student photographers documented the first 24 hours of each New Year in multiple locations—in other words, a documented journey through both time and space. Although many of the photographs are taken in the UK a substantial number are not, and the organisation of the project demonstrates that while we share a common calendar there are many other things that we do not share. It is a fascinating visual trip to work through the years and see the points of convergence and divergence.

Project 2, Exercise 3: The image as document

Why do you think that photographs are such a significant part of our lives? Write down how you feel about photos – or videos – from your family’s past.

  • Photographs are tangible artifacts that promise to preserve memories intact and changeless across time. Faces and places are of particular importance to us, so anything that can channel their likenesses to us is meaningful. We can preserve other kinds of keepsakes like letters or personal possessions, but they don't seem to have quite the same power. Perhaps this is because relate to people is more important than relating to inanimate objects, and to relate to a person most often means reading his or her face where we look for recognition, what is familiar and loved, and characteristic expressions and signs of mood.
  • I look at pictures and videos of my family's past to remember how people and things were. Sometimes they help me to recall a particular, mood or feeling, but it is hard to view them without adding on a layer of everything that has happened since the time the picture was taken. I also find that I feel differently about pictures taken of family members that I know than those that I have never known. Pictures of family members from generations that went before me are interesting in a curious (are those eyes like mine?) or historical (so that's where and how our family lived) way, but they do not have the same personal appeal—they both are and are not part of my story.

Will this archiving be affected by the digital revolution?

  • Digital photography has many advantages over film-based photography, but one of its downsides is the fact that I print so few images now. I realize that none of my children has probably had the experience of poring over a family album because there isn't one. There are now thousands more images in the house but they are not as easily available and we are not likely to sit looking at them together. (Although we did happen to do this recently and it occurred to me how much I missed looking at family pictures together, even those taken just a few years ago.)
  • Looking at screen-based imagery is not the same as looking at a photographic print: we are used to digital images being transitory and are more likely to browse rather than contemplate them. If we need to research or consume images, digital is much faster. If we want to take time over a picture there is no substitute for a print you can hold in your hand. I wouldn't call one approach better than the other—it is more a question of being appropriate to the task.

Project 2, Exercise 2

Does this make photography a medium uniquely suited to portraying time and the passage of time?

Yes, I think it does. Whether we look at images that allow for a longer passage of time than the eye can record (Trillo and Lartigue in the last exercise) or a shorter passage (Edgerton and Muybridge), photography has been uniquely able to extend the boundaries of the way we perceive, record and portray time.

Can other creative art forms deal with the concept of time to the same extent?

Other forms of art are able to portray or capture time in different ways, but few of them are able to do it with the flexibility of photography. Furthermore, I think that artists working in different forms and media recognize this themselves—and it is why so many conventions for portraying time in the other arts have been influenced by both still photography and moving images.

Project 2, Exercise 1: It's about time

Derek Trillo, Passing Place, Manchester, 2006

  • Conveys movement by using a slow shutter speed to capture two figures walking toward one another on a staircase. The resulting blur is effective, particularly because it works well with the silhouetted figures and the background colours—I think I can see some multicoloured fringing that gives the impression of speed.

Harold Edgerton, Bullet and Apple, c.1964

  • A high-speed flash has been used to freeze a bullet as it exits an apple stuck on a shell casing. This is also effective not because it allows movement to blur, but because it freezes an event that the eye cannot possibly see (the previous image also used a camera to portray an event in a way that the eye cannot naturally perceive). The entry and exit 'wounds' to the apple have only just been made and show the bullet's explosive speed and power.

Harold Edgerton, Multiflash tennis serve, 1949

  • Edgerton used a stroboscopic effect to slice up a moment that would have been visible to the eye (a tennis serve). Again, the technical properties of photography are effective in allowing us to 'see' an event in a way that would otherwise be impossible: this time a single, fluid movement portrayed as a series of discrete steps.

Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Ma cousine Bichonnade, 1905

  • Lartigue's picture of his cousin is also effective in showing movement through a relatively short exposure, although it gives the impression that the subject is flying. In that sense, though, it is no more unnatural than any of the other images—each one of them portrays movement in a way that is foreign to us, but that tells us something interesting about movement and the passage of time.

 

Research Point: Dealing with the flood

For me, photography has been a hobby and not something I have used in the context of my work life. I have had pictures published in magazines and sold a few prints, but I use social media daily and regularly post images on several different platforms: Flickr (I've had an account for 12 years), Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and this website. I post pictures to share with friends and family (some publicly, some privately), to document my travels, to illustrate some of the things I write, to learn with other photographers, to keep a record of my own progress and, frankly, because I feel the need to share the things I see.

Some of my pictures are 'social' in nature (friends, family, events), but most have been for my own interest. In that sense, I suppose many of them could be viewed as leaning toward the artistic side, although I have never used that term myself. (A friend did once tell me, however, that she didn't 'get' my pictures but understood that they were 'meant to be artsy-fartsy.' I wasn't sure what she meant at first but gradually realized that, for her, a good photograph usually has family members in it.)

Social media have contributed to the democratization of photography, along with other technologies, particularly the availability of digital cameras and the vastly-improved quality of sensors in mobile phones. I have heard photographers and critics complain about the sheer volume of trivial and poor pictures and am sometimes sympathetic to their concerns (I get tired of seeing pictures of cats, selfies, garish sunsets and cups of coffee), but I don't think that they devalue photography. The cream rises to the top and a remarkable image still stands apart from the pack without the help of photo snobbery.

I suppose this means that I am contributing to the flood and it occasionally occurs to me that the world doesn't really need another mediocre picture. Nevertheless, I get pleasure out of taking, editing and sharing pictures and enjoy seeing the work of others, too. None of us will improve our photographic and artistic skills without practice, so I will continue to make photographs—they may not be the best, but I can see my progress.

Project 1, Exercise 2

  • When I review the pictures I have taken over the last year or so, I realize that many—but not all—of them were taken on trips.
  • Those that don't fall into that category are often pictures of family taken at events like birthdays and other gatherings. The family pictures rarely betray any interest in being 'artistic'. Instead they are meant to document the event and the people present for the sake of memories or creating a record. Sometimes they are also meant for sharing with people who were there or those who couldn't attend.
  • The travel pictures too, are sometimes meant to document a time, place or mood ('this is where we stayed,' 'this is the view we saw that day,' 'this is the place we visited').
  • In quite a few of the travel pictures, though, I can see that I have tried to do something different—I've looked for an interesting angle, a form/shape/abstract, an unexpected juxtaposition, or some beautiful light.
  • I can also see that the quality of my picture-taking changes depending on whether I am alone or with other people. When I am with others I am usually very aware that photography is my interest, not theirs, and that I can't take all the time that I would like to work a scene. When I travel alone I have much more latitude in the time that I can spend on creating an image and can stay with it, trying different things until I am satisfied.
  • My 'alone' pictures tend to be more self-consciously 'artistic' because I can devote the time to them that I would like. I can develop an idea or an approach both practically or technically, as well as thinking my way through it. I usually find these images much more satisfying than the other kinds mentioned above.

Research point: Context and meaning

Notes on John A. Walker, "Context as a Determinant of Photographic Meaning"

  • Walker distinguishes between 'immanent structure' (immediate, local context) and the broader context outside the frame of an artwork. The frame itself is a form of self-containment or bracketing of meaning and can lead us to ignore the wider context within which a work appears and is understood.
  • A given work can have multiple contexts. These have different impacts on the connotations of a work but are less likely to affect denotation.
  • When context changes there is potential for a 'third-effect' meaning created by relationships with items in the surrounding context.
  • Change of context became particularly important as artworks were less often attached to a specific place. (John Berger makes the same point in "Ways of Seeing," noting that it used to be common for works to be created for, and installed in, specific settings. Often, these were places of worship.) Now, media context is more important than 'architectural setting.'
  • Walker uses the terms 'circulation' and 'currency' to describe the ebbs and flows in the life of a work as it changes contexts.
  • The different locations in which Jo Spence's project—Beyond the Family Album, Private Images, Public Conventionshas been seen demonstrate the impact that context has for setting an interpretive frame.
  • Walker states that if we are going to talk about the "efficacy" of the exhibit we would need to know about the viewers. But which viewers? Spence's 'ideal viewer' or someone else? I don't know how useful this would be as a line of inquiry. If we can't always be sure about the intent of the artist (as though there were just one and the artist herself could articulate it perfectly), and context has an important role in the creation of meaning, why do we think that knowing about the 'viewer' (as though there were just one) is helpful?
  • Just as context can shape interpretation of a work, so the work can shape interpretation of its context. This is a good point and Walker's example is worth copying here:

If display context can influence the meaning of a photograph, the photograph
can influence the meaning of the context. This reasoning lay behind John X.
Bcrger's comment at a Hayward Gallery evening discussion that the socialist and
feminist photography 'had radicalised the gallery space'. But the influence is twoway:
it could also be argued that the gallery—a High Art cultural institution
serving the interests of the bourgeoisie—had de-radicalised radical photography!

  • Walker then describes the 'mental context' of the viewer. Much of this seems like basic communications or rhetorical theory: how is the viewer/listener disposed to the work/message? He then spends a few paragraphs pointing out that we are not all just individuals but share common opinions, values and viewpoints. In other words, there must be sufficient commonality between communicator and audience to allow communication to happen. 
  • This seems like a fairly obvious point to me, but it may still need to be made explicit. People regularly claim that advertising has no effect, but it must: commercial enterprises and governments wouldn't pay what they do if advertising had no impact. Perhaps this is a more insidious side of imagery if we are not even aware of its effects.
  • Walker closes his article with a brief discussion of the frustration that some artists have of losing control of the meaning of their work, given that they cannot always choose the context within which it will be viewed. (Sounds to me to be a bit like having children. We bring them into the world and do our best to raise them well, but we don't own them and we cannot control them. You must accept it.)

Project 1, Exercise 1

What, in your view, makes photographs unique as an art form?

I think the primary thing that makes photography unique as an art form is that the camera is a powerful tool for abstracting time. At its most basic, the camera is a box with light-sensitive material that can exposed to light for a wide range of times. Only because of photography are we able to see a single scene in a way that our eye could never capture in a single glance—either for an abnormally long period (minutes, hours or days) or for an abnormally short period (thousands of a second). The camera changes our ability to perceive, capture and represent time in a way that other artistic tools cannot.

Because we can now perceive change differently, our understanding of our world has changed and, with it, our perception of motion and change in the physical world. While working of some of the assignments in Part 3: Visual Communications, it occurred to me that some of the visual conventions we now take for granted very likely owe their existence to photography, whether still or moving images. Where did "speed lines" or distortion of a moving object come from in illustration without having seen motion captured on film? And were cartoon cells influenced by the individual frames of a motion picture?

To me, this suggests that every photographic image—by its very nature—is an abstraction of our perception and that it has fundamentally changed the way we see our world, permanently.

It occurs to me that abstraction is also present in the moment of creating a photograph. Unlike most (all?) other arts, the photographer is a step or two removed from his or her creation—we cannot normally see the film as it is being exposed and we can only see a mediated representation of the a digital image as it is being captured. There is little or no immediate possibility of a direct, manual or sensory creation with the thing being produced.

Think of the production of artworks in relation to time: photographs are always in the present – they are captured not synthesised. Think also about what we mean by ‘photographic image’. Does it have to be something permanently fixed? Does a photograph have to exist in hard copy? Is there a difference between a printed photograph and a digital image that sits virtually on someone’s device, for instance?

I'm not sure I completely understand the distinction being made: photographs "are captured not synthesised." Since the early days of photography it has been possible to synthesise photographs by combining or otherwise altering images whether in-camera or in post-production. It is so common now that it is not always clear if the image we are looking at is a 'photograph' that was 'always in the present,' a purely digital creation or some combination of techniques.

I'm also not sure about a photograph having to be permanently fixed or to exist in hard copy. My work on re-appropriating images for Assignment Three showed me that photographs can persist powerfully in people's memories and imaginations, whether they have access to the 'original' (assuming there is just one) or not. Once frozen in a photograph—or perhaps in a striking sequence from a movie or video—I think that the memories they leave can become 'fixed' in the imagination. Not only that, but it seems to me that those images in the imagination have the power to shape and reinterpret memory itself. More than once I have seen family members 'remember' an event because they had seen a photograph of it, only to be informed that they had not been present or perhaps even alive when the photograph is taken.

I don't think the great distinction in photography lies between prints and digital images. There is indeed a difference in experiencing a print versus viewing a digital image on-screen or as a projection, but I think that there is something qualitatively different between an image that started out as a piece of film—there is or was an original, physical artefact that had been exposed to light—rather than the output from a digital sensor which is a mathematical representation of captured and interpreted data.

Beyond these considerations, though, I think that the most important distinction to be made in photography is between images that are still and images that move. They are captured differently, show different things and are perceived and remembered differently by their viewers.

Project 1, Research Point

William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, 1844-1846

Fox Talbot's cameras, collection of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television 

Fox Talbot's cameras, collection of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television 

Fox Talbot (1800-1877) was originally inspired in his experiments by his difficulties in assisted-drawing with a Camera Lucida. Not being able to master the technique involved, he began to consider how he might permanently fix the images on paper produced by a Camera Obscura. Fox Talbot sees both techniques as aids to drawing but hints at how fixed images derived from photographic techniques might have potential beyond 'naturally' recording images. Although he is interested as a scientist in achieving consistent results, he allows room for esthetic concerns:

These tints, however, might undoubtedly be brought nearer to uniformity, if any great advantage appeared likely to result: but, several persons of taste having been consulted on the point, viz. which tint on the whole deserved a preference, it was found that their opinions offered nothing approaching to unanimity, and therefore, as the process presents us spontaneously with a variety of shades of colour, it was thought best to admit whichever appeared pleasing to the eye, without aiming at an uniformity which is hardly attainable.
— William Henry Fox Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, Section ii.

It seems clear to me that photography is both mechanical and creative and I don't see any inherent contradiction in that. Any art—and perhaps any human product—involves the use of tools, materials and processes, some of which may be mechanical and some not. Photography is far from being the objective 'pencil of nature' and some of Fox Talbot's early work already shows an awareness of the role the human operator plays in creating the camera, preparing the paper, mixing the chemicals, timing the exposure and positioning the camera. The camera and its related processes may be more complex than those employed in some arts, but the roles of imagination and human action are no less important.