I discovered a thought-provoking article by Ted Byrne today. My thanks to him for challenging my sensibilities. Oh ... yes ... and for providing me a nice topic to write about ... hehe.
Having said that, I think I disagree with him :)
**** Author's Warning
Long term exposure to this article may cause elevated blood pressure, acid reflux and marital distress. Warning signs include:
- failure to laugh, chuckle, snort or giggle
- incapacity to pronounce the name "Glen" without foam or spittle
- uncontrolled outbursts of "that idiot!" or "clueless goof!"
Ted raises the question of credit and it's relation to proportion. That is to say, proportion of contribution to a final work between subject, tool maker and artist and who deserves credit for what? It is a rare work indeed that does not include some element of a real subject even if abstracted. So most, if not all works include at least these three contributors.
Let's take an easy example. If I create a faithful copy of a Jackson Pollack, should my signature be on that image? So far, Ted and I agree. The artwork is Pollack's, not mine. As Ted admonishes, it would be vulgar of me to take credit for that artwork.
Now, what if I had made that faithful copy using colored beads glued to the side of a skyscraper 200 feet in the air? Or hand-dyed dog hair and sea-glass pasted to the side of my car? It could be argued that that is craftsmanship ... not artistry. Should it be signed by me?
Is there a difference between 'taking' and 'making' a picture? How much does a photographer have to do to 'make' a picture? Or what measure of influence must a photographer exert for the work to become "theirs"?
These questions hit close to home for us macro-n-nature-photography-enthusiasts. Let's call them manaphothusiasts for short. Or, better, manic-phothusiasts. If you like landscapes, too ... well then you'd be a lanamanic-phothusiast ... uhh ... duhhh. Do LPs actually contribute artistically or simply render flowers, rocks and trees on pieces of paper and liquified crystals?
First, I recommend reading Ted's essay directly rather than my interpretation. It's located here:
Is it worth asking - what does signing your work mean? Is it any different than giving credits to a photographer? Clearly, it is. It says, "this is mine".
Not one to shy away from controversy, I've listed some rhetorical and intentionally irritating questions -
1. Should we add credits for every subject we ever take (model name, building name, architect, etc).
2. Is photography ever true creation or always manipulation of something previously created?
3. When is there enough contribution to call it 'ours'?
Those are softball issues. Old hat. Photography 101. Let's get serious ...
1. Photojournalists often only have an instant of time to point and click. Did they really contribute to the image?
2. Some of the best photographers need little to no post-processing (other than adding their watermark, that is :) Did they really do any work?
3. Should your child have signed his popsicle stick picture frame ... even though the teacher bought all the supplies and told him everything to do? He certainly didn't make the popsicle sticks or the glue.
4. Do I want to know who took my mom's childhood photograph ... yeah, I do. I already recognize my mom.
The final analysis ... artistry is about choices. Choices include what to shoot, when to shoot, how to shoot. Just because two people might shoot the same thing the same way doesn't mean there wasn't artistry involved. It simply means that that artistry is of a more common breed.
In the end, it's really quite simple. Give credit where credit is due and add a double dose of humility.
Interestingly, as a Christian, I see this issue in a broader context. It relates to what the root of sin actually is. That is to say, mankind pridefully taking credit for the things that belong to God alone.
For more opportunity to scoff and/or foam see my other (tongue-in-cheek) article on photographic abstractionism.
Oh ... and one last thought before I go. There is another reason not to sign an image ... when it stinks :)
Peace and love,