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|" Intentions and Techniques-Some
Thoughts" was originally published as the introduction to the catalog
for the fourth Intentions and Techniques exhibition at Lehigh University.
Intentions and Techniques is a series of exhibitions from the Lehigh
University photography collection.
INTENTIONS AND TECHNIQUESSOME THOUGHTS
Michael A. Smith
When the first of the
Intentions and Techniques exhibitions occurred back in 1979, I was
quite intrigued by the title. I still am now, at this, the fourth
so titled exhibition.
"To what extent",
I asked myself, "do techniques follow from intentionand to
what extent is it the other way around?" First there is intentionan
artist wants to say somethingand he or she finds techniques appropriate
to that intention. But then, along the way, the techniques begin informing
and sometimes directing the intentionso that the artist ends up
working in a manner appropriate to, and on occasion even dictated by,
the techniques employed.
Some examples: photographer
X wants to photograph people interacting at evening events. For this,
flash is needed. When the use of flash is mastered it can then become
a determinant of the kind of subject which will continue to be of interest.
And the kinds of in between moments that the use of flash so well reveals,
perhaps at first mostly a function of the technique, become what the
photographer specifically ends up looking for.
Photographer Y wants sharper
photographs and begins to use a view camera. When he or she finds satisfaction
in the more studied approach that a view camera encourages, the subject
matter that then gets chosen becomes things which do not move. And as
a consequence, the intention becomes to make still, meditative photographs.
Photographer Z finds the
35mm camera, with its lightness and ease of operation to be a joy, and
finds that with practice it lends itself to making photographs in "the
decisive moment." Thereafter, those become the moments that get
looked foreverything else gets ignored.
As a working photographer
I find it fascinating to see to what extent this occurs. The danger,
the constant danger, is that when the techniques begin to determine
intention, the fresh response to the world can get lost and the work
can suffer. In Looking at Photographs, John Szarkowski said,
"In photography, perhaps
because of the speed with which the medium itself has changed, only
a very few workers have been able to maintain the vitality and plasticity
of their conception for a full working lifetime. The genuinely creative
period of most photographers of exceptional talent has rarely exceeded
ten or fifteen years."
I think that the reason
the above is true is not that the medium has changed rapidly, but is
that photographers begin by being fully responsive to the world (their
intentionbroadly speaking) and end up by becoming involved first
with photography (techniquesbroadly speaking) and only then with
the world. Eventually, work so determined tends to become self referential,
and by not being constantly nourished by a fresh unmediated response
to the world, tends to become repetitive and/or burn out.
In looking through this
collection of photographs that Ricardo Viera has brought together, I
was constantly struck by its freshness and aliveness. My reaction on
seeing each succeeding photograph was, "And this, too!". What
has been created here, for surely this Lehigh University Collection
is a creation rather than just an accumulationis a marvelous teaching
collectionone in which not only the whole of the history of photography
is representedfrom a Fox Talbot made in 1840 down to work made
just last year, but one in which many types of approaches to photography
are represented. There are, of course, photographs made with a fine
art intentionin all modes and stylesfrom straight photographs
to manipulated and even painted on photographswith everything
in between. And there are fine examples of photographs made with other
intentions as wellphotographs made for commercial purposes and
photographs made originally just to be news records.
But this is not simply a
collection of one of this and one of that and, oh yesone of those
over there. No. Though there is a tremendous variety of styles and approaches,
there is an unusual degree of expressiveness about this collectiona
highly charged emotional quality permeates throughout and functions
as the unifying characteristic. This emotional quality is not a superficial
onethe collection does not shock and is not forced. This highly
charged emotional quality, readily apparent when looking at the collection
as a whole, is a reflection of its creator, Ricardo Viera. On meeting
Viera, one immediately feels his highly charged emotional intensity.
It is fascinating to observe how this curators personality has
informed this collectionin exactly the same way that an individual
artists personality informs his or her art.
This collection, by its
variety and vitality, is an excellent teaching and study collection,
a model for the type of collections that can and should be formed wherever
photography is taught. Lehigh Universitys intentionto build
this collectionhas been well served by the technique employedthe
vesting in one person the autonomy to build it. It is to the Universitys
credit that they are willing to do this in an age characterized by its
bureaucratic and group decision making procedures. This technique insures
that the Lehigh University Collection of Photographs will be unique
and very special. One can only hope that it will continue to grow.
© 1987 Michael A. Smith
|© 2015 Michael and Paula|
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