My Thursday evening philosophy group touched on the topic of art last night and raised a whole mess of questions which, as someone who plays around with photography, struck me as profound. These are two ideas that compliment one another, but please keep in mind I'm working from memory, so rather than attributing these ideas to anyone in particular(I'd probaby get the names wrong anyway) I'll start by simply saying these are NOT my ideas---I simply found them relevent to my own work and practice.
First, the aura of originality. An original work has a "life" that replicas or reproductions don't possess. This dosen't mean that reproductions aren't good, just that they aren't the same, even though they can be exact in in very detail except the "aura." The proof being that an original is always more greatly valued than a reproduction. The implication for photography is what interests me, since except for unrepeatable works, like a daguerrotype(I probably spelled that wrong!) or a "one off" print after which the negative has been destroyed, most photographic prints are basically reproductions.
Or are they?
If we accept Adams' concept of the negative being the score and the print the performance each print is a unique original in itself.
Or is it?
Most printers I know pride themselves on exact duplication from one print to the next, which conjurs up unsharp masks and digital prints for example(please, lets not get into a digi debate here, these are philosophical concepts I'm struggling with!) Where does this attitude come from? I'm guessing that it is from the notion that a photograph is a reproduction of the physical and the observable. In order to be "true" to the scene, all prints have to be exactly like the first in the edition---very much like what we'd expect to find in a road map. If one map showed the Santa Monica Freeway in Las Vegas, another map in San Francisco and still another in Portland the value of such information would be worthless because it has no bearing on reality, and captured reality is something to strive for in say medical and aerial photographs, portraits, historic records, that sort of stuff, but what about the art for art's sake photos where there is no bearing on reality from the outset? Why is exactness in reproduction in that case so important? (No, I don't know the answer!)
We are told that if we study a masterpiece long enough, we'll be able to distinguish the original from the reproduction. What is the implication for photography? Certainly some of us can spot a contact print as opposed to an enlargement. Is this because a contact has a greater "aura?" What about a contact made of somebody else's negative? Whose "aura" or or "life" is it? The photographer who provides the negative? Or the printer?
The second concept, this one near and dear to my heart, is: anything worth doing is worth doing poorly! Meaning that art, music, poetry, anything like that is as much an activity of "the people" as it is of those who are considered artists, musicians, poets, etc... It is the Doing that is important rather than the Doing Well. Someone who is an amateur painter can paint a "well " done picture with a paint by numbers kit of a cottage by the sea and come up with a something pretty awful, or they can try it using thier own imagination and have something that, while it wouldn't win any salons, is original(see first concept above) and has value, while a technically proficient and world reknown painter can also paint a seaside cottage and, because he's painted a hundred of them, comes up with something pretty awful (although reproductions will $ell in hundreds of galleries coast to coast.) The Art is in the doing and everyone's invited to pick up a brush(or camera). Technical proficiency will come with time and practice(like most things) but the Art is as much if not more, in giving of an "aura" or life by the artist,as what is hanging on the wall or being sold in the gallery or enjoyed in a museum. I could be mistaken, but I get the impression that this concept is what drives much of the current interest in LF.
What do you think? I'm interested in hearing.