NORTHUMBERLAND CAMERA CLUB: Don't lose art to technicality

Costume and even the hint of a background can add context to a portrait.Costume and even the hint of a background can add context to a portrait.
Costume and even the hint of a background can add context to a portrait.
Photography is a fusion of technological precision and art.

Photographers try to balance those two elements to create the perfect photograph; both are equally important. However, many people place the emphasis on technicalities and the art becomes forgotten.

At the dawn of photography, the French artist Louis Daguerre worked alongside the inventor of the camera, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce; art and science striving together.

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On this side of the Channel, inventor William Fox Talbot explored photography too. Although driven by scientific endeavour, there is little doubt that art was also in the forefront of his outstanding compositions. Then, chemical engineer Herbert Bowyer Berkeley and polymath Sir John Herschel emphasised the technological side, while, back in France, Hippolyte Bayard applied the same compositional techniques as artists.

Early photography in Britain was a pastime for upper-middle class white men. Maybe that is why Julia Margaret Cameron, with her more artistic approach, using soft focus techniques, met disdain from her technically precise contemporaries. Like many artists whose creativity becomes appreciated posthumously, her work is considered ground-breaking today.

In David Bailey’s photographs of Jean Shrimpton for Vogue magazine in 1962, the New York streets added context to the fashion shots. I consider these images far more powerful than portraits with plain white backdrops. He is a photographer who minimises the importance of the technical aspects of photography.

In an interview with Ephotozine he said of the late Patrick Litchfield: “He was technically great, couldn’t take a picture to save his life.” I’m not sure I would agree, but their approaches to photography were very different.

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One of my favourite photographers, Annie Leibovitz, shuns the technical aspects of photography. She concentrates on the lighting and story-telling far more than the camera settings. I watched her explaining that she doesn’t think about the way aperture changes depth of field in her shots. Even so, a lot of her portraiture work includes relevant settings that add context to the photographs. I am sure that isn’t a happy accident.

Although claiming not to be technical photographers is something Leibovitz and Bailey have in common, they photograph people and places that most of us can only dream of. We are never going to have a gallery of photos we’ve taken of Jack Nicholson, Whoopi Goldberg, Keith Richards or Michael Caine.

But, that doesn’t matter. We can still create great pictures of people around us. There are characters and personalities in our lives and capturing an aspect of their personality can make photographs just as captivating as those of film or rock stars.

Knowing how our cameras and lenses perform will make us better photographers. But, that must not be at the expense of the art.

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Next time you take a photo, don’t spend too long thinking about the exposure or composition. Think about the story your photograph tells.

This week’s theme words are Bang and Blend.

For more tips from Ivor, check out his website: