To Stake Everything On Looking

As photographers, do we really need to fret so much over the demise of film? This preoccupations maybe a symptom of how photography is practiced in this period of time. We are so inundated with photographs that we have forgotten the simple power of a photographic image. It has been noted that photography as practiced in the west “has become characterised by largely unemotional, conceptual approaches that wryly play with the notion of photography as documentation and its relationship with the real.” We forget that the power of a photograph comes from the intensity of gaze of the photographer; the force of seeing brought to bear upon a subject.

From, A Private Compass, ©2013 Dave Ortiz

From, A Private Compass, ©2013 Dave Ortiz

Walking around with an iPhone does not necessarily make one a photographer and certainly not a journalist, unless one brings to bear on the photograph an intensity of gaze and a keenness of thought. By doing this a photographer does not load the image conceptually but rather strips the image down to an essence that conveys an experience of the world. Photography needs to be about describing what it is like to be in the world rather than describing a relationship between a piece of paper or some pixels on a monitor and some sort of objective reality.

The great Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu once said:

Photographers do not cure like a doctor, defend like a lawyer, analyze like a scholar, offer support like a priest, amuse like a raconteur or intoxicate like a singer, they simply look. That is enough—no, that is all. For a photographer, to look is everything. That is why photographers must continue to look things through and through. Photographers should gaze at their subjects head on, their whole form becoming an eye as they face the world. To stake their everything on looking, that is to be a photographer” 

To stake their everything on looking, that is a rather bold and revolutionary statement in contemporary photography circles. In a world where images come at you at breakneck speed, how can a photographer invest an image with such importance and dedication? He must. How can a single image be charged with profound meaning when it is a just a drop in the sea? By the intensity of the photographer and his desire to communicate.

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