Talking about Artistic Vision in Photography

Developing an artistic vision is when the snap-shooter becomes an artist. Its taking control of your images to express your unique vision.  Its moving from taking shots to making art in the medium of photography.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift

Artistic Vision is an artist’s way of seeing, their perspective, their vision, their unique take on the world.  It’s made up of the choices made by the artist – their style, their color choices (or lack of color), their subject matter and everything that makes the work theirs and not someone else’s work.  Artistic Vision is an identity.  An artist’s vision becomes recognizable as the artist becomes more well known.

“An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.” – James Whistler

At its core, photography basically a mechanical capture of reality, and camera owners caught up in the gadgetry, settings, specs, and gee whiz latest equipment buzz often seem to forget that photography is a creative art.  The idea that better equipment means better photography dismisses the individual behind the equipment.

“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” Ansel Adams

As with with all creative arts, an artistic vision what separates craft from artistry.  It separates a “photographer” simply holding up a camera and pushing a button, from an artist using a camera as a tool of expression.  Photography because of its lack of hands on mark making is the most challenging of all mediums in which to convey an artistic vision.

“Photography is a contest between a photographer and the presumptions of approximate and habitual seeing. The contest can be held anywhere …” – John Szarkowski

A perfectly exposed photograph with the “right” settings, focus, depth of field, white balance and any other measure of technical skill falls under the realm of craft and really is rather meaningless in terms of artistic vision.  Photographers who attend museum shows and gallery openings for fine art photography exhibits might scoff at some of the less than perfect exposures or a blown out highlights and completely miss the artist’s overall vision.

There is no right or wrong way to use the photographic medium to express one’s artistic vision just as the painters show us that there is no right or wrong way to paint a picture.  You can use tools from no camera, like Man Ray’s photograms to lens-less pinhole cameras to infinitely sharp view camera images from Ansel Adams F64 group. You can create imagery in the darkroom like Jerry Uelsmann’s enlarger composites or create digital composites in Photoshop.  You can create carefully composed grand landscapes or quick rapid fire looks at the people on the street.  The only requirement that will elevate your work to an artistic level is creating your own vision.

“Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even it is clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work.” –William Klein

Photography is seeing.  Photography is looking at your world through the lens of a camera.  It’s finding what interests you for all the reasons that your unique personal history has created your view of the world.

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt

Art Prints

About “Someone Remembered” by Edward M. Fielding

With that little background in mind I’d like to talk about one of my photograph called “Someone Remembered” and try to explain my approach in creating an artistic vision with photography.  To me this photograph reads like a story.

“Someone Remembered” takes place in a field in Vermont where an old farm truck took its last breaths and died.  Back in the day before we had modern conveniences such as transfer stations, recycling or even dumps.  Old cars and farm machinery simply ended where their usefulness ended.

I’ve photographed this old truck in the past and it’s a favorite spot of mine.  It’s in the database so to speak – a swirling folder of locations I keep in my head.  Since working with book publishers these last few years creating book cover images, I’ve been working on introducing more and more storytelling in my images. Creating images that feel like a frame out of a movie or page out of a book rather than simple documentation of an object or scene.

Rather any simple documentation of a subject I want the image to create story-lines in the viewer’s head.  Close up shots of this truck in the past suggested to me that maybe the truck was in an accident, maybe the driver was drunk and hit a tree or it was some tragic suicide. Maybe the truck is haunted?

In any case to me the truck has a lonely, sad quality.  At one point this truck was new, and probably the farm was successfully feeding a large family. This truck was driven to town for mail, groceries and the latest gossip.  Each fall the family piled into the truck with a prize winning pig in the back and headed off to the annual country fair for some good times.  Maybe this truck was used by teenagers for a little late night summer necking?

Whatever the case, surely this trucks past is more pleasureable than its sad present state of rusting in a field with its door ajar, its hood split in two threatening to fall the ground, its wooden bed rotten away and it’s upholstered seats chewed away by mice, its springs exposed.

The story in my mind leading up to the final version of “Someone Remembered” was that the truck perhaps slid off the road on Christmas Eve, crashing into a snowbank.  The driver never made it to the party.  Was never able to bring his love a present.  But the love was never forgotten and years later or perhaps every year the sweetheart leaves a present on the front seat for her long lost lover.

So that was my vision that I planned out in my head.  Execution of the vision required waiting until the right moment and waiting for the snow to fall.  When we finally got a good amount of snow I prepared several Christmas boxes that I’d saved from last Christmas , doned my snow pants, high boots, tripod and camera backpack.  

To reach the site required trudging through knee high snow with a heavy pack.  Unfortunately I didn’t bring snowshoes so by the time I reached the truck my legs were exhausted.  I took a few shots of the front of the truck and tried my props in different arrangements, being careful not to trample the snow around the truck until I was ready to move in closer.

Around the side of the truck the final shot came to me pre-visualized.  The snow on the windows provided a perfectly diffused lighting and the interior was nearly monochromatic with all of the rust and brown tones.  The bright Christmas package stood out perfectly.   I composed the image vertically to draw the eye into the interior as if one might enter the truck, perhaps from a child’s angle.  

I placed the Christmas package using the rule of thirds, placing it in one of the “sweet spots”.  I choose a wide open aperture to keep the package in focus but to throw the background out of focus and create more moodiness and mystery to the image.  Further work was done in Adobe Lightroom to desaturate and “age” the colors.

The end result is an image that visually tells the story that I intended to tell. Will everyone see the same story that I see?  Perhaps not but it’s my artistic vision I can’t only express it in my way and put it out there for interpretation. Hopefully it sparks a bit of conversation with the viewer and is more engaging than a documentary photograph that simply says “I saw an old truck”.   Hopefully my vision of reality has a bit more mystery and intrigue.  I want the viewer to ask about that present – who is it it for?  Why is it in this in this old rotting truck?  How long has it been there? I want more questions than answers.