Thursday, January 20, 2011

A question of definition

It's hard to define what Art is. We've tried, argued, debated.. but never came to any consensus. Art is vague; it is elusive in nature. We all know that. And not surprisingly, so is photography.

At every stage of my journey in photography, I have come to embrace different definitions of what photography is. Throughout the years, the meaning of this craft personally to me has kept on evolving.

When I first started off some 4 years ago, photography meant equipment, gear and technical competency. That was a very superficial (and oh how inaccurate) initial view I had. Once I got pass the obsession over gear to realise that the photographer matters so much more, I then believed that photography is about beauty. I aimed to capture all things aesthetically beautiful. I patiently awaited sunsets, took pictures of nature, flowers, scenery.. all things that appeared 'nice'.

Changi Boardwalk

But soon enough I realised an even nicer definition of photography. I began to see that photography, at a broader level, could be distilled into two general themes: Light, and Life. Photography then, to me was about capturing life through light. Light the medium, life the subject. I thought this definition worked pretty well, and held true for every genre of photography, except maybe say still-life.

But as I moved on, I began to become more specific in my definitions. I saw the critical importance of photography, and narrowed down what the crux of "life through light" really was. After killing some brain cells, I decided it boiled down to this: memories and moments. Photography is about making permanent a fleeting moment in history. It is powerful - never underestimate the importance of that family snapshot or that black and white Chinatown photo.

Then | Now

While all these were "true" definitions, I somehow felt I didn't entirely capture the artistic element of photography. Only last year, when I started playing with strobes, a bit of portraiture, and a lot of conceptual photography did I understand for myself that it's also about emotion through expression. Really, photography in its purest is an art form, and like any art, it's a means of expression. I then used photography as a means to visually represent the emotions and feelings I was experiencing. That was when photography became personal and emotional, and I could really identify with the photos I took.

1-week-old Cayden
So tell me, what is our ending
The tide is out, the moon is high, we're sailing..
Fill me with Your love till overflowing <3

Through these few years of growth, meanings kept shifting. Which leads to my conclusion that you can never quite pin down what photography really means to you, because you'll never fully know. Perhaps the question of definition is not that important, but the way you go about obtaining these definitions.

To end it all, let me offer you another definition of photography: Photography is not about photography. At this point in writing, this is what photography means to me. It means everything else in this world, except for photography. And a camera is the tool which helps me see without a camera. Food for thought :)

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