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The Meaning of Photography

by Garrett Fisher
April 21, 2014

If you’re in to definitions, “defining” photography is a tough proposition. A definition, by its structure, is intended to restrict something to a particular understanding. Photography is an art form replete with fluidity in subject and purpose; thus, it would be extremely difficult to define.

Meaning varies by person. As with all forms of art: literature, poetry, sculpture, painting, music – one of the great mysterious exercises that humans undergo is the almost mysticism behind interpreting what the artist is trying to say. Whether it is a message, a lesson, a feeling, or a yearning, the eternal question is the depth and sophistication of what a piece represents and what the recipient should take away from it.

Art, in any of its forms, represents access to the depths of an artist’s soul. Cultures have a way of repressing freedom of expression through limitless norms and customs; thus, an artist has an avenue to express their deepest statements in a way that they probably cannot do in the ordinary spoken word. Can an author fully convey what is in his or her book in a conversation? Can Van Gogh or Monet describe their iconic paintings in the spoken word? Can a sculptor paint what he expressed in three dimensions on a canvas? Can an orchestra be compressed into visual art?

This access to an artist’s soul touches our very own. Things that cannot be said are written. That which cannot be expressed in words is painted. Sculptures convey a dimension that paintings cannot express. An orchestra speaks its own language. These things stir our own expression, they touch thoughts and emotions that we ourselves do not seem to know how to identify or express.

The meaning of photography can only be defined as the message the photographer is conveying and the thoughts it stirs in us. The world is the photographer’s paintbrush and its canvas is our minds. No longer restrained by physical media, photography can go anywhere in an instant. Just as fast as we can produce and consume it, it is gone due to volume and irrelevance. We retain the meaning the photographer intended and how it relates to us. Photography can imitate literature in that it tells a story. It can mimic paintings by freezing a scene in time. It can sculpt dimension through focus, perspective, lighting, and angle and it can show movement like music.

In my case, photography is a sharpening of the skills of art – skills which are used to see numbers and science artistically and differently. The likes of Da Vinci are admirable to me – someone versed in both art and science – and it is my view that these two are symbiotic. Science, although a digital quantification of the natural world, is in a way a form of almost artistic expression of what happens in the Universe around us. We curiously find beauty in things like fractals and the Fibonacci sequence while science sees mathematical intrigue, efficiency, and utility. The irony and beauty is not lost in the fact that art and science is found from the same sources. A better scientist or mathematician is one who can understand the complexities, vagaries, and unexpected outcomes that art provides.

I specifically photo mostly natural scenes with a little human influence. In nature and in human-influenced subjects, my goal is to convey something that an ordinary person would not see, even if in the same location. Thus, my focus is movement, night, aerial, and my version of composition and angle. Many times I like to tell a story with a series of photos; yet, I am of the disposition that each photo itself should follow the rule of unusual perspective and contemplative beauty. With scenes influenced by human development, patterns are quite revealing. Cities and towns can be chaotic – the product of mish-mash architecture and human purpose smashed together in a noise that appears random for all intents and purposes. Patterns within that noise is like a story within a story – something to make a person think and see things differently than they are.

Much of my work in economics is based on modeling and, to the extent possible, innovating with regard to our fear-driven economy. The need for food, clothing, and shelter still dominates our economies – and we work very hard to survive despite a high level of mutual distrust. Science tells us that our primary needs (food, clothing, shelter) are only a small part of our total need set as humans and that we are far deeper in our pursuit of emotional connection, spiritual understanding, and mental stimulation than raw economics would let us believe. It can be saddening watching the forces we have created undermine our global satisfaction and potential for greatness.

It is almost poetic that the beauty provided by untended, lesser life forms exceeds that which humans produce naturally. A natural habitat could be total wilderness area, untouched by humans, effectively “managed” by plants with no thinking ability, survival-based animals, microbes, and the randomness of the weather and yet is almost always considered by humankind to be a spiritual beauty that stirs our soul. The product of this scenery, both on a micro and macro level, is of stunning beauty and inspiration. I find that refreshing my perspective and expressing these scenes is both inspiring to me on all levels yet also to the recipients of this work.

It seems that art is one of the few things we as humans do inside our economic system that is outside of food, clothing, and shelter. The stirring and thought-provoking nature of all forms of artistic expression awakens in our minds functions that are deadened by the drudgery of productivity inside employment. Much like my work in economics, a healthy dose of thought-provoking artwork stirs the mind to view our current situation with a freedom that we cannot see while embedded in our routines. Whether it is via the visual arts or the art of economics, thinking differently is the first step to adjusting our own reality.