Art by Machine
I like the French word for camera: appareil photo (photo apparatus, or machine). Photography, either still or moving (with a motion picture camera), puts a machine between the creator and the subject. And there’s something wonderful in a David Cronenberg-ish, blending-of-biological-and-mechanical in all of that.
My Father always had a pretty good camera: a Yashicaflex 2 1/4 (which I now have), and a Pentax 35mm. He let me use the cameras from high school on. So, I’ve been taking pictures since I was about 15. I once had the bad taste to ask the best photographer I ever worked with on a newspaper, Jim Caiella, why he was so good. He said, only half kidding, “Shoot a lot of film.” I know he was 50 percent serious, because you either have “an eye,” or you don’t. But shooting a lot of film (or, now, digital images) is essential. At National Geographic they like to say the ratio of pictures taken to the ones that end up in the magazine is about 300 to 1.
I still have boxes of Nikon film-camera bodies and lenses, 30 Polaroids, and a few digital cameras and video cameras. Shooting pictures is part of life; rarely a day goes by that I don’t shoot half a dozen photos, and on good days scores of them, of course.
It always amuses me when I give someone a picture they like and they say with a straight face, “Oh, this is great. What camera do you use? I’ve got to get one of those!” I’ve got news for you, people. They say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well, cameras don’t take pictures, photogaphers take pictures. But a good camera is “good” mostly because of the “glass” (the lens). However, it’s the photographer who selects the images — framing things just so, making sure the light is right, the exposure is right, and then clicking the shutter at the precise moment. All THAT stuff.
Now, video, that’s not entirely a whole new ball game. But it involves movement and (usually) sound. It is photography plus. Film/video is about time, the passage of, like music. Andrei Tarkovsky called his autobiographical book on film (and art in general) “Sculpting in Time,” for that very reason. And Tarkovsky (the greatest filmmaker, according to me, oh, and, yes, according to Ingmar Berman) also said that if the purpose of art is not to reveal “What is the meaning of life?” then it is to ask the question.
Maybe I’m getting too heavy. Maybe you should just take a picture, or make a movie, or enjoy someone else’s pictures and movies and forget about philosophy.