All art is expression. The ability of an artist to successfully portray expression through their art is more important than technical ability. All art has a message, has something to say about the world and the artist. For this reason, when making an exposure, I find that it’s fundamentally important to ask myself, “what do I see” and “what do I want to say.”
I’m fortunate to have studied with photographers Roger Mertin and Bruno Chalifour. Both well respected photographers in their own right, they each taught me invaluable lessons on photography, critique, self-expression, and art. We studied the works of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and many other photographers. What stood out to me most in studying these artists was how the message of their art impacted me.
The work of Diane Arbus always makes a compelling example. If you aren’t familiar with her work, take a minute to study it. It’s shocking, moving, and sometimes very difficult. She is exceptionally good at expressing her thoughts on a topic through photography.
A Flower Girl At A Wedding, Connecticut is a stark portrayal of marriage. The coarse grain and high contrast create a sense of darkness that is amplified by the child’s darkened eyes.
Christmas Tree in a living room, Levitown, L.I. present us with quite a scene. The tree overpowers the room, its decoration gaudy and excessive in comparison to the surroundings. The abundance of gifts a reminder of the commercialization of the holiday.
Viewing these images, you instantly get a sense of what Diane Arbus is saying about marriage and Christmas. The range in technique that Arbus employs is another example of her talent – but what makes her work powerful art is the expression she is capable of exhibiting through her photography.
Artwork that lacks expression isn’t art. This isn’t to say that technical ability isn’t important. Technique gives the artist the tools necessary to express meaning. However, technique alone does not make art – all art is expression.