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Photography: vision & light.

Ours is the age of photography. The present generation is surrounded by photographic images -- magazines, newspapers, television, movies, video games, videotapes and stunning images from great distances in space. Photography is so much a part of everyday life, and teaching students to be visually literate helps them to understand the culture they are a part of. There is a need to teach this generation how to see, what to look for, and how to capture subtle nuances on film.

Photography seems too simple, too democractic. Everyone takes pictures. Yet, it is this seeming simplicity that interferes with photography's potential as a medium of serious expression. Many people own and use cameras, but do not know what the art of photography entails.

Teaching introductory photography is partly technical, partly aesthetic. While the camera may seem to record the world objectively, the photographer must decide, subjectively, where the camera will look and when. Far from being a mere mechanical tool, the camera, in the hands of an artist, has the potential to become a powerful vehicle of expression.

Initially, students must achieve sufficient technical competence to free the mind any eye to act with informed perception. Technically photography is a fairly easy medium to master. Although it has complex mechanical and chemical restrictions, it is not difficult to become a superb craftsperson. This craft of photography is merely a discipline which frees the artist to turn concepts into works of art.

Visual representation of a concept relies heavily on the ability to perceive, which requires a complex use of the senses. Artistic perception involves, not only the sense of sight, but seeing with the imagination, with the intellect. This perception become,s through experience, an educated or informed awareness. This informed awareness enriches the imagination and frees the artist to go beyond the surface to reveal more than is normally visible, to perceive nuances, subtleties and ambiguities in everyday life. Art is metaphorical and photography is unique in its ability to capture the real-but-not-real.

Learning to See

"Strong seeing," to borrow a phrase from Edward Weston, stimulates the imaginationa and releases the artist to consider what may be inferred or implied. We must train the student to look beyond the surface. Alert observation must become a habit. Our world is full of excitement that is often missed through dullness of vision.

Photographic interpretation of a subject requires many aesthetic choices. These choices include: framing the subject, the foreground, background, design and compositional elements, and most important, light. While it is true that a photograph can have great emotional impact without any of the traditional aspects of composition or design, light becomes paramount in setting the mood, the atmosphere, and the feeling of the photograph. Light has many different qualities: it affects our mood in real life as it affects our perception of mood in a photograph; it can be diffused and soft, or hard and contrasting. Early morning shadows have soft edges; noontime shadows have hard edges. Light changes and the same scene changes throughout the day and with the different seasons. These qualities of light greatly affect the emotional depiction of subject matter in a photograph. Light and shadow are opponents, and studying how they oppose one another is a full time activity, worthy of great effort.

The knowledge and understanding of intelligent perception affords the student a great opportunity to interpret the world from a personal point of view. This learning experience provides the student with a new window on the world. It increases awareness and enhances the ability to view the surrounding world as more than simply a sum of all its parts.

Bill Kelley is visiting Assistant Professor, Salem State College, Salem, Massachusetts.
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Author:Kelley, Bill
Publication:School Arts
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:615
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