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Original art

A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

It takes many tangible, and intangible things to put together an original photographic artwork. Obvious tangible elements include camera, lenses, studio, models, computers, software, travel to remote destinations, and long arduous hikes. All this effort and thousands of shots may be end of story for many photographers. For some they are just raw data. There are many views on what makes a photograph an original artwork, or just stock photography.

IMHO, the key standard with the originality lies with the ownership of photographs. It seems to me that less the contribution of the photographer to an image, less he/she owns it. The result becomes more anonymous and therefore less valuable and less original. The works without any personal touch are doomed to oblivion. Still, even majority of work with personal touch will not survive the test of time. I believe, idea and more specifically, the novelty of idea, embedded in the piece will be a factor as much as its skillful execution.

Another typical standard that many use in judging originality is novelty of the location or the subject. In my view this is a fundamentally flawed criterion, wrongly giving advantage to certain group of artists. Although it is a worthy of praise, being first in a new location or using a new technique are hardly sufficient to bestow otherwise mediocre pieces the status of artwork. This faulty approach in judging is inherently unfair to the artists that have the fortune of being born late. In addition, it penalizes some artists for being early, as this also limited their reach to other more remote locations. However, the most severe issue with this criterion is the ignorance of average person. With many different backgrounds and limited exposure to history of photography and its current status, it is easy to see people think that whatever new to them must be original also. Similarly, a group of people thinks that no original photographic work can come out from well-known destinations such as Yosemite and Zion. They are glad to grant only few early works with privilege of "originality" and condemn the rest with banality and imitation.

As much as I wish the perceptions to change and advancement of fairness in discussions, I accept that it is only human to maintain the status quo. It is, indeed, the realization of powerlessness to impinge any change on discourse, forced me to look into more carefully in the role of a photographer as opposed to an artist in final form of an artwork. It is evident that artist is considered to impart more of his/her ideas to an artwork than a photographer. In other words, looking from artwork towards artist, it is almost impossible to identify a photographer from his/her work, unless you already know his/her work. Naturally, it would make more sense to overcome this problem by developing unique style or set of original ideas. This directly implies that raw data has to be further cleaned, recomposed, sculpted, massaged, and distilled into art pieces.

Execution matters. One needs to understand the physics and limits each tools in his/her disposal, and master the operation of all. Only then, one can achieve an optimum result with existing tool base. Being a craftsman is to know all parameters and be able to optimize a solution within the universe of parameters. However, our brain is at the mercy of heart that is finicky. Our heart is looking to fall in love again and again. It really does not matter whether our labor consumed oceans or moves mountains, it took million years, or we engineered, fine tuned, meticulously created a giga-story-high modern marvel. It can tear it into pieces in no time, leaving you in pity for your labor and craftwork. No amount of effort can make a good art. Our heart is not impressed, understand or obey the laws of nature. More may mean less sometimes, and less can be much more than more. Its actions are at best complex, but mostly beyond reason. It takes fraction of a second to love, even less to hate. Sometimes it hates and loves at the time, the same thing, and that would be perfectly normal. When it loves, it defies time. Truly. Channels open between the minds across oceans and centuries. All other forces shiver in ecstasy. There are few better feelings than the one that is felt at the completion of good artwork. I hope many will feel the same sparks in their eyes, minds and hearts, as I looked them the first time.

I let the reader/viewer be the judge.

Enjoy life,

Mehmet Ozgur
posted on 5/1/08
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