Essay two Beauty in Photography

Beauty in photography is a book of short essays by photographer and author Robert Adams, written as claimed in the inside cover by the quiet voice of a working photographer, artist and craftsman who has long thought about his endeavour.

This is about the second Essay “Beauty in Photography” In his second essay Adams starts by setting up the idea that thinking distracts us from art.Many writers and painters have demonstrated that thinking long about what art is or ought to be, ruins the power to write or paint”  he sights examples of Tolstoy denouncing his own novels of Shakespeare plays and of Coleridge becoming so abstracted he could no longer write. He also points out the dichotomy that we have to risk thinking for our work to have any shape.

All of this leads to Adams admitting that he has come to the conclusion that he has to use the word beauty to describe the thing that drives him to pick up his camera. “I have since learned, however, that the word beauty is in practice unavoidable.” He further explains that “its very centrality accounts, in fact for my decision to photograph” he continues “there appeared a quality – Beauty seemed the only appropriate word for it.”

he continues by defining beauty as the Beauty of Form he also claims it useful for photographers as implies light. He speculates on how art reveals beauty or form and states “Art simplifies. it is never exactly equal to life. In the visual arts, this careful sorting out in favour of order is called composition” 

The essay continues on to look at how photography as an art relies on the photographer seeing the world in front of him, and that no amount of cleaver equipment can replace this need for the photographer’s eye, which is I suppose a universal truth. He quotes Edward Weston as claimed in one of his daybooks that he started to photograph as a result of his “Amazement at the subject matter”, and as he says he doubts that any great photographer starts taking pictures because of amazement over a camera.

Next, he asks “if we assume the goal of art is beauty” how do we measure that it has been achieved, how do we judge it. What follows is a justification that for art to be beautiful it must be unique (I am not sure about this) and that it must help us to see the beauty in things we did not perceive beauty i.e. to rediscover beauty. he disdains the idea of uncountable camera club members looking for the tripod holes made in Yosemite Park by Ansel Adams so that they can recreate his work.

He notes that beauty can be found in the most unlikely places, who would have thought that bell peppers could be so different citing the work of Weston, who he seems to greatly admire. He also believes that luck plays a big part in capturing good photographic art, Citing that if one stood at a certain old church just as the sun was rising on a particular night that we could have taken a similar picture to Adams, this for me somewhat argues against his prior point remembering that Adams kept revisiting a site to find that perfect moon or bit of light and he had the foresight to know that there was a great image there, this seems to me to be very different from stumbling on a beautiful landscape just as the sun is perfect and snapping a picture. One requires luck the other requires planning and the photographer’s eye to know that one day the light will be perfect.

Adams goes on to claim that great photographic art should look like it was done effortlessly, whilst I think this is true often the truth is far from simple, a fact that Adams goes on to conclude, he calls it the photographers deception, and remarks that “only pictures that look as if they had been easily made can convincingly suggest that beauty is commonplace”

Adams, moves on to look at the photographs that have become memorable in photography’s history and asks “are all important pictures beautiful?” he cites the Robert Capa image of the fatally wounded Spanish loyalist, he claims it is a vivid synopsis of violent death but says it is not beautiful in the way he is describing he speculates that it needs a lesser adjective to describe it, and concludes that significant photographs are not necessarily beautiful. He does concede that composition is one way that a photographer can show beauty through form.

Further, he makes an important point that ” beauty is not solely a matter of related shapes. Beauty is, at least in part always tied to subject matter.”

I find the last statement to resonate with the work I have been doing on A1 that there is more to a sublime image that just the angle of the camera and that in some cases images did not work because from the angle I was shooting them there was simply a lack of beauty, even when looking for the sublime.

One point that he makes jarred as it was something I have been looking into and that was the quote “On some occasions, however, Beauty whether in nature or mirrored in art, can itself be painful. I have walked in the mountains on clear winter afternoons when the landscape I discovered in the camera’s finder was, in its spectacular independence of us frightening.” Has Adams discovered the Sublime? he does not mention it but it sounds very similar to the comments by Burke. This is significant and is what I intend to examine with assignment 1.

Adams concludes that if photography can reveal the truth to us not only as truth but beauty then we do not need to attempt to explain our affection for it further.