What are we admiring exactly?

Awareness does what exactly?

Prompt change, initiate initiatives?

Feel empathy, sympathy, wish things were different? Then what?

I have been looking at some documentary photography and I read stories about mothers loosing their children in death while being raped, the love lost in the elderly, the battles in the anorexic mind and I imagine all these stories exhibited beautifully in an art gallery for all to view.

Are we admiring the photography, the colours, the light, the composition, and the viewpoint? Or are we admiring the strength, the love, the life and the loss in the stories? Or, are we admiring the ability of the photographer to touch us with these stories just through the use of a picture?

What are we celebrating, showing, highlighting exactly? Are we making art from tragedy or is tragedy art whether we like it or not?

Is it naive, silly of me to feel guilty for admiring these tragedies in all its photographic glory? Guilty because as a spectator, I remain a spectator. I become aware of the wrongs, the rights, the horrors and the mishaps but just rub my chin, tilt my head, feel a tear a tear in my eye then walk out the door in time for lunch?

If it is the skill in photography that is the art then I should be able to find wonderful photography about a carton of milk but I don’t, I can’t.

There is no doubt about it. The art is in the connecting – the act of transcending our own reality into another’s.

Really then, documentary photography’s biggest competitor is complacency.


Carton of milk


9 thoughts on “What are we admiring exactly?

    1. No you’re not, that is the last word I would use to describe you, other than perhaps monkey, hippo or squishy and oh yeah, there are a few others but I think you get my point.

  1. Good points!

    I’m always reluctant to equate tragedy and art, though. I’m tired of being told that something beautiful and nice is entertainment or hobby, but not art. Sure, tragedy is part of life and it is daring to depict it, but the beautiful moments are part of life too. And I’ve seen many examples of a display of tragedy that I found rather tasteless than artistic.

    In short, I don’t think that tragedy is always art. It is art to depict tragedy (or happy moments, for that matter) in a way that moves us, that makes us think, that captivates us, that is aesthetic in its display (be it text or image).

    The reason why we are more ready to see tragedy as art is probably that it has the innate capacity to move us and to make us think. If we see something nice, we think: Yeah, that’s what it should be like. But we don’t really feel like doing anything. If we see something bad, we feel that something should be done to correct the wrong. A good picture is telling a story, and every creative writing teacher will tell you that a good story needs a conflict. 😉

    Having said that, Mona Lisa is smiling. So there is some happy art out there after all. 😉

    In the end, I guess it all depends on how one wants to define art. I tend to equate nicely done creative products with art, a view not shared by everyone. But hey, I see more art in the world that way. 😉

    By the way, I like the milk photograph. 😉

    1. It’s a funny thing, this thing called art. Thanks for your response, so nice to hear others thoughts and I loved your point about a good story always needing conflict, we all love a good story after all. I believe a good picture tells a story too.

      1. That’s so true, a good picture definitely tells a story!

        I think art is so difficult to discuss because everybody has such a different opinion about it. 😉

  2. I completely agree with you in that the primary objective in the art is connecting. “Awareness” is sort of the blanket term for initiating deeper thinking towards these issues – when the problem is given a face, we feel more of a personal connection to it. That it’s done in a beautiful way highlights the skill of the photographer, and the ability to portray ugly topics and still find beauty.

    I watched a documentary series recently about hardened prison inmates who are away from life for extremely violent crimes, but it focused on who they were as people, their back stories (usually quite deprived), and how the experience in prison has changed them. It doesn’t excuse their crimes, but it certainly shed a more “human” light on them. You actually started to truly feel for them.

    I think what I’m trying to say is that there is no black and white, and art or film that touches on controversial subjects in a positive way serves to expand your way of thinking.

    1. Nicely said. If I only had one wish about the art world, it would be to continue to see mind expanding art.

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