As obsessed with photography as I have almost always been I have as well always been interested in finding out what makes photography different from any other media or expression of art. I have blogged about it a great many times. It’s partly been looking at how the technical aspect of photography defines its expression, for instance in posts such as The Essential Property of Photography, The Inherent Property of Photography and The Uniqueness of a Gradient. I have also explored the subject on a more principal or philosophical level, such as in the posts The Heart of Photography, What Does It Matter! and At the End of the Rainbow.
But there is at least one more aspect of photography that I find very intriguing. Photography is the only medium in which there is even the possibility of an accidental masterpiece. You won’t find that in other arts. You cannot make an accidental masterpiece if you are a painter or a sculptor. It’s just not going to happen.
This is simultaneously photography’s great advantage and its Achilles’ heel: It’s the easiest medium in which on some levels to be competent. Anybody can be a marginally capable photographer, but it takes a lot of work to learn to become even a competent painter. With this much said, I think at the same time while photography is the easiest medium to become competent in, it is probably the hardest one in which to develop a distinctive personal vision. It’s the hardest medium in which to separate yourself from all those other people who are doing reasonable good stuff and to find a personal voice, your own vision, and to make something that is truly, memorably yours and not someone else’s. A recognized signature style of photography is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve.
The fun part, though, is that even without a distinctive voice, we can all happen to make captivating images, through accidents or incidents or just by pure luck. And, yes, we may even be able to produce a masterpiece. The stimulating outcome is that sometimes those accidental works of art that are capable of engaging beyond the simplest recognition, offer us a new view on our media, give us new ideas and provide us with a fresh approach, that we may utilize next time – and by so doing starting to develop our distinctive voice. It has always amazed me that just when I think there is nothing left to do in photography and that all permutations and possibilities have been exhausted, someone comes along and puts the media to a new use, and makes it his or her own, yanks it out of this kind of amateur status, and makes it as profound and moving as formally interesting as any other medium.