Learning From Another Medium

28 May 2017

It can be very useful to apply insights from one creative medium to a different medium in order to deepen understanding in both mediums. Previously I wrote that music is a direct expression of emotions. Yet, to me, a photograph expresses a felt sense, rather than as-direct-a feeling as a piece of music can. I believe this comes about because music has a direct connection to the emotional brain due to the melody, rhythm or harmony evoking a feeling. Thought and the thinking mind are not required. Up until about the age of seven, children operate basically through the emotional brain. Around the age of seven, the thinking facilities start to develop, and this allows a layer of complexity to develop, from simple associations of thoughts all the way to abstract thinking. In my case, the thinking brain became my modus operandi. However, a downside was that I had to think about how I felt about something, rather than just feel directly. Direct feeling is still not second nature to me. 

This is important in photography, because photography engages the visual systems of the brain. Photography, unlike music, is primarily a visual language. Music can evoke pictures, but it is more a case of feelings then pictures. I would argue for photography, it is pictures, then feelings. I visually explore the photograph, then I feel. It can at times be simultaneous. This is the immediacy of great photographs. The visual appeal leads to the feeling almost instantaneously. Often I can't describe the feeling that a certain photograph is great. I can describe why I think it is great. 

I also wrote earlier how photography is connected to memory, and a memory tends to be a vignette of a single picture. It can be clear or hazy. It can bubble up to the surface now, or be recalled up when thinking about a past event. With memory also comes perception, as we all may perceive the same experience differently. And memories change over time, as research into witnesses memory recall has discovered. Who I am is not a static ‘thing’ rather a collection of memories, preferences, aversions, habits, instincts and intuitions, that I have found is always dynamic. The constellation of these aspects may form a pattern over time, forming a temperament, but they vary day-to-day. However, a collection is all it is, a grand abstraction, for there is nothing essential or enduring I can find. There is no wizard behind the curtain. 

So in photography, we have a person viewing a photograph who is a constellation of aspects of ‘self’, looking at a photograph taken by a another person who is also a complex constellation. At its barest of bones, we have a complex constellation looking at an abstraction (the photograph) taken by a complex constellation. How can there be a communication? What am I being shown by this photograph? 

This digress is important not as a theory of good photography, but as a way for me to sort myself out as a photographer. Any person who is deeply into their creativity has to take this seemingly insurmountable step by themselves. Read that again, by yourself. Creativity is life, the two are inseparable. Both face the unknown and it is better to face both with impunity. 

So how to cut through? This is the coalface for my photography right now. How do I know this? Because of my answer: I don’t know. This is good, it is a clear answer. This I can work with. 

Darren J Harris

(copyright 2017 Darren J Harris)

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