The Pencil of Nature by William Henry Fox Talbot
Photography, mechanical or creative, or both?
It’s so interesting to read about how photography was perceived in its early days. There is a lot of emphasis on how different it is from plates and drawings, which require the ‘united skill of the Artist and the Engraver’. These Photogenic Drawings are described as impressed by Nature and made permanent by Light. There is a lot of mystery and curiosity about how it works and how it can be improved. Talbot describes it as a very mechanical process, as the images are ‘formed or depicted by optical and chemical means alone, and without the aid of any one acquainted with the art of drawing’. His goal, it seems, is to help bring these images closer to perfection by understanding ‘Nature’s laws’.
I think that photography is both a mechanical and creative process. By mechanical I mean the way a camera works to capture images and the way the images are developed (either analogue or digital). Photography is creative in the way that the artist chooses the image’s composition, visual elements, light, message, etc. in the same way that an artist would with a drawing or painting. I think a really good photographer is able to transcend the merely mechanical side of photography by making the viewer focus less on the medium and more on what they’re seeing/feeling.
I became very interested in photography when I was around 13 years old, so I did various courses and experimented with it endlessly. It was my favorite thing to do for the next 3-4 years, until I discovered how much more I loved to draw. From that period onwards, I have felt more and more that almost anybody with a good camera could take pictures but that only those with a lot of passion and dedication could draw; I saw that there were very few amazing photographers and an endless amount of averagely good ones, especially with the popularisation of smartphone photography and the near extinction of film photography. The latter, to me, seems to be a lot more creative, as the photographer is a lot more involved with the process and the images are more precious. The photographers and images I continue to admire all date back to when photography was still analogue and a lot more similar to art (in terms of well-thought-out process).
Ironically, Talbot viewed photography then much as I view photography now (as something not controlled by the artist) but for different reasons and within different contexts.