Here’s a photo of us rafting down the Upper Marsh Fork of the Canning River – essentially the headwaters of the Canning in the Brooks Range, close to the continental divide. The river here has eroded its way through the layers of bedrock to form this really neat little mini-canyon. I hopped out of the boat to take some photos of the run. Actually, we ran it several times, and I shot each time, some horizontals, a few verticals, some wider, some tighter, trying to get different compositions of essentially the same scene. I like this one the most, I think the vertical frame gives heightens the sense of action of the rafting, and accentuates the canyon walls and the mountains – it’s not as spacious as some of the horizontal compositions, but it feels closer to what the experience was for me.
For me, any photograph should strive to do that – present the experience of the photographer.That’s what makes art so critically individual – well, “good art” anyway. Lots of what passes for art today doesn’t really do that, which is fine, but it doesn’t even really strive to do that, which I find a little disappointing. I had a great conversation yesterday over lunch with a friend about this very thing. The discussion focused around ‘art’ that serves the purpose of entertaining a particular audience – which, in my opinion, is qualitatively different to art that serves the purpose of expressing a particular experience, or experiences, of the artist. I’d hesitate to use the word ‘art’ to define anything which serves merely to entertain. Decoration, for example, doesn’t, IMO, equate to art.
Art is, to me, the simple expression of the experience of being human. It might be something as simple as the awe and wonder we can feel watching a glorious sunset, or joy we experience through love, etc. Art may even be something so bland and fleeting as the feeling I had rafting through the Narrows, on the Upper Marsh fork. But art is always an expression of our experience. Decoration, or entertainment, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily do this. That, IMO, is the fundamental difference between pop culture and art. Most of what I see coming through modern pop culture has no regard at all for the experience of the artist – it serves the purpose of entertaining, and nothing more. That’s one of the reasons it seems to fade so quickly – as entertainment, the audience bores of it quickly, and so we need further entertainment. This works wonderfully well for a capitalist society – it drives consumption onward. It’s much like fast food – we eat something that doesn’t fulfill us, so very quickly thereafter we need ‘more’. It fills you up without filling you up. Perfect – it’s like a little built-in planned obsolescence.
When I listen to “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis, or a Mozart Concerto, or read a Walt Whitman poem, or see a great painting, it holds my attention because it serves something deeper than mere entertainment. If we want to make art, we’d do well to pay attention to what the really great artists have done, and learn from that.
PS – I make no pretense that any of what I do is ‘great art’. And certainly the photo above isn’t “great art’ by any stretch of the imagination. But, to me, it expresses my experience rafting down that section of the river wonderfully – and that’s all it needs to do.