In this blog post, I would like to reflect on the phenomenon commonly described as the “bad” photograph, a phenomenon we commonly stumble on (think most nature and architectural photography) and ignore as we shove our way through our labyrinthine streets, leaving this fertile pastureland latent and heavily dormant. The first question that comes to mind when I witness a photograph my artistic sensibilities would like me to classify as a “bad” photograph is: could the evident blunders possibly be intentional?
Now there is no denying that that sky is not anything like a real sky, but merely the product of badly applied HDR technique. And surely all photographs must look wonderful when we denude them of their colour and leave them in stark, abject monochrome. But these kind of photographs are of no interest to me in my academic peregrinations through the wonderful art we call photography.
Let us take as an example a photograph of supreme interest to me, one which did make me slightly cringe when I first laid my eyes on it. This photograph by Alex Stoddard (see below) has all its seams cracking, so to speak. Now we do not need to assess the entire opus of Mr. Stoddard to know that he is an exceptionally gifted artist and a true master of the craft of photography. But it does help to know that in other works of his he seems to know pretty well how to set up a photo and correctly apply the necessary post-processing techniques. So what on earth could have gone wrong with this particular example, if anything did go wrong, that is?
In a previous post (click here to read post), not related to my studies, I wrote that we receive the world as a representation in order that we may come to know it. But, and this is a very important point, I can only come to know the world through that representation if I formulate a representation of that representation. And now we have opened the way for that shitty cortical homunculus; and jestingly he prances in, leisurely mocking all our endeavours to keep our Zen while we grovelingly attempt to unravel the knots of destiny…
A solution to this impasse seems in sight: the second representation I form in response to that first representation that was formed as a postulate of the thing perceived, is firmly lodged in the I. Thus, what I now represent, I also feel. The heart speaks and all is silent.
A “bad” photograph is conceptually similar to a misaligned image in the viewfinder of a rangefinder camera. The first ‘representation’ is what we believe the photograph actually looks like – what we think the world might see, we might say… and needless to stay that at this stage we idealise… the sun always shines on television. The second ‘representation’ is what we believe we are actually seeing (insert here all argumentative jargon on subjectivity). In the case of the “bad” photograph these two ‘representations’ are (intentionally?) misaligned. This misalignment forces us to accept the “bad” photograph for what it is: a husk; a shell bereft of its snail; a beautiful fossil. “Bad” photographs, intentionally, implicitly or tacitly, play on this misalignment, disrupting the connivance between the two ‘representations’, and effectively guide us to our heart.
The “bad” photograph is the quintessential concept photograph.
The “bad” photograph has a purpose.
Alex STODDARD. [n.d.]. No title. Alex Stoddard [online]. Available at: https://www.alexstoddard.com/portraits#13 [accessed 23 October 2019].