How do you travel from art to photography? Should art look like “art”, or should it look like the artist? Should photographs follow a recognizable pattern in order to be accepted or should they express the vision of the artist? Is an object art, even if it is not understood? Is the artist an artist, even if he is not understood? Even if he does not fall into a mainstream “artist” pattern? How does the artist and photographer find inspiration and how does he transform it into an object that has the power to move?
I will not try to answer these questions. Not directly, at least. But I will tell you a story that comprises all these questions and hopefully some answers. A story about how art can influence photography, how you can travel from art to photography, and how art and memories can be the substance of photography.
I intended this article as a continuation of my article Complete guide to Intentional Camera Movement ICM, where I would talk, after having touched it briefly in the previous article, about the artistic interpretation of ICM. But eventually, the article evolved into something much vaster. Combined with some older thoughts, it became a reflection about how art influences photography, or at least how it influenced my photography, about how it resides in our subconscious and it informs our work.
I will probably have to come back to ICM in a future article, where I will elaborate on this subject more concretely, without the extended art-related considerations. But for now, I will focus on this, because in my opinion, it is an important part of creating fine art photography.
THE SUBSTANCE OF MEMORIES – ABOUT ART AND MEMORIES BEING THE SUBSTANCE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
The Substance of Memories – The title of this image is self-explanatory. It is an image about memories.
It talks about my memories about art and the way they surface in my photography in a subconscious way. I do not intend to be specific about my memories in this image. I do not really try to do that in any of my photographs. It just “happens”.
I believe in the spontaneous manifestation of our vision, but I think, in order for a spontaneous manifestation to even exist, we need to be able to control our overall vision in our photography and have a rich enough material to relate to. This is why I am such a fervent advocate, in my work with my students and as a principle, of educating oneself in all possible fields and in all possible directions, because everything we know and everything we learn and we experience becomes who we are.
Who we are is the substance of what our art is made of. Who we are is where our vision has its roots and what gives us inspiration for our photography.
Who we are is our MEMORIES.
I have always believed that inspiration is to be found not in the outside world, but in the inside world, and what I mean by this is that we are the main source of our inspiration and this is where we should look for it.
I have also said that I am practicing an “autobiographical” kind of photography and this is what (en)Visionography means, not in the sense that (en)Visionography is only my photography, or that it is a tool for me to tell the story of my life, but that it is a photography based on personal experience and on the concept of the artist finding inspiration in his own life and spirituality to create personal art.
I do not think inspiration can really be found outside of ourselves. I think what we see and what we come in contact with can trigger inspiration but it is for us to walk this path and turn that trigger into real inspiration, and from there into a vision and eventually into a photograph. In that respect, I talk about (en)Visionography being an autobiographical kind of photography because real vision is always personal and it is about the interpretation of the world in the mind of an artist.
ARTISTIC INDEPENDENCE – SUBJECT INDEPENDENCE
I believe that, if all artists relied on themselves to find inspiration, the quest for authenticity and originality would be an easier one, because each of us would rely on something unique to create, as unique as each of us is. And uniqueness is what creates authenticity and originality in art, and by extension in fine art photography. This is something all great artists of the past knew and were applying in practice. They knew that inspiration is not outside but inside and that the subject and whatever we see in front of us is just a pretext to express another feeling, another vision, another side of ourselves.
This is why I consider that the subject of the photograph is not so important and that we could express the same vision and ideas by using many kinds of subjects.
It happens that I’m using mainly architectural subjects to create my images but this doesn’t necessarily have to do with my vision and what I want to convey, but with the fact that I’m more comfortable with this subject and I understand it better, so I can use it to express my vision better. You may be more comfortable with landscape, people, or objects. That means you can use these subjects to create an image that suits your vision just as well as I for instance use architecture.
Recently, I am working on a series of self-portraits, which is as far from architecture as can be, and even more, they are in color. But despite the differences, what I want to convey is the same vision and the same emotion, only by using a different subject.
I choose to not think in restrictive terms as subject matter or style.
This gives me creative freedom and helps me express all the facets of my artistic quest in my work.
FROM ART TO PHOTOGRAPHY. WHY?
The substance of Memories is an image that comes from my memories about art that were born a long time ago, and it is related to what impresses me most in painting. I am and always was a big admirer of Impressionism and the Impressionists painters. I think that was the biggest revolution in art that happened so far, even bigger than what is called modern or contemporary art, because it needed true boldness in spirit and in action to happen, and the Impressionist painters had it.
I believe what we see around us is an impression our mind creates based on the real world, and this is what creates our vision of the world.
This is why Impressionism had such an impact on me. While still a kid, I was so deeply impressed when I first saw and read about Claude Monet’s painting “Impression, soleil levant” (in English “Impression, Sunrise”). This was the first impressionistic painting in the world, and this is the painting that gave the name to this movement, a movement that was to change art forever, and that is the basis and the starting point of all modern art and everything that was created after that, photography included.
The same deep impression made on me Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, a series of more than 30 paintings where Monet is painting the cathedral of Rouen in different moments, different times of the day and different kinds of lighting. I was so impressed by this series that I had to travel thousands of miles away to go to Rouen just to see this Cathedral and imagine what Monet thought about when he created the series.
Here are some of the most well-known paintings in the series, and a video talking about the series that is a very interesting resource to tell you more about it.
I think Monet, just like Vermeer (other time, other space, but a magician of light as well), would have made fantastic photographers. Not only because they knew how to read light and work with it, but they knew how to transform it in emotion. It is clear from their painting work how they can turn their subjects and the light they see in front of them into symbols that are able to move the viewer in such a profound way, and I think they would do the same with photography if they waited a bit to be born in our time.
VAN GOGH AND “THE ABSOLUTE”
After being impressed by Monet, in time I become a big admirer of van Gogh and he is still one of my favorite painters and artists, whose work moves me beyond any reasonable explanation, and probably the only real explanation is that he managed to transmit so much emotion in his work that even after so long I am still reacting to it, even if I cannot directly relate to anything he was relating to when he created his work.
I believe this is what great artists can do. They have a sixth sense that allows them to connect with what I call “The Absolute” and which is something very close to what Carl Jung calls the “Collective archetypal memory” or “Collective Unconscious”. I related to Carl Jung’s archetypes in my series Ode to Black too, where the titles of the images follow Jung’s main archetypes, and this is a recurrent motif in my art philosophy. I could talk about this for hours, but I would bore everyone that is not as passionate as I am about these things, so I will try to make it short.
LES FAUVES – “THE WILD BEASTS” OF PAINTING
Together with the Impressionists and van Gogh, I have a big passion for the painters who were calling themselves “Les Fauves”, and who created the current called Fauvism. The translation in English of the name of the movement is “the wild beasts” and this has to do not with them being wild but with the palette of colors they were using that was strong and bold and was able to create very deep sensations and emotions. The name was given to them by an art critic who was shocked by the intensity of the colors they were using.
I think the Fauvists (and previously van Gogh) were doing in painting something very close to what I’m trying to do in photography. They were using intense color to create emotion, while I’m using intense contrast in my black-and-white work to do the same. This was not a long-lasting movement and maybe some of you don’t even know about it, but I think it was a very powerful movement in art and its influences can be still seen in the art of today.
Some of the main Fauvist artists were André Derain, Henri Matisse and Maurice de Vlaminck. Some consider Fauvism as a movement a continuation of the work of van Gogh and I agree with them because it has the same force and I think it is taking the use of color to an extreme, in a positive way.
Van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist so we can call the Fauvists something like “Post-Post-Impressionists”. I hope you are not losing me now because it becomes quite complex, but the idea is to show the sequence in the evolution of painting at that moment and how important the things that were happening back then were, not only for painting but for the modern art and everything that came after, even for photography.
“EXPRESSION” – ISM
The Fauvists inspired in their turn the painters who created another artistic movement that I am a big admirer of: Expressionism. Expressionism was a style that not only manifested itself in painting but in all arts, like architecture, dance, music, theater, and other arts. German Expressionism was the most powerful of all, with the groups Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, but the movement manifested all over the world. Among the members of Expressionism were Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, Egon Schiele, Georges Rouault.
Expressionism may be my favorite current in art. Expressionism unravels itself at the border between figurative and non-figurative painting and, in my opinion, it contains the best of both world, and this is why it is so penetrant. The Expressionists were aiming to show not the reality, but the emotional experience in front of reality, their own emotional response to reality. This is something very close to what I’m searching for in my work and this is why I’m saying that my work is autobiographical, because it talks about my emotions provoked by what I see in front of me and by what I live.
The expressionists used the same intense color palette like the Fauves and were relying more on color than on shape because the color is more important in revealing emotion than the shape is. They were trying to enter a world that doesn’t need precision to be lived and experienced and this is why the shape was not as important as the color was. Their art is striking and powerful. It moves you in a way that not many other kinds of art can do and you can feel that emotion that they want to convey very clearly. You don’t necessarily “see” the emotion but you feel it. It just hits you.
I believe this is what art is all about: to make you FEEL. To make you LIVE.
The act of feeling is the most human of everything we do and art aims to our most human side. This is why art is so important because it talks to what we have best in us, to our human qualities, to our soul and not necessarily to our brain. You do not need to think to be human. You only need to feel. This is why art cannot be explained by rational judgments and one cannot impose any rule on it, because it doesn’t address to the mind, but to the soul.
As I was once saying about art, and this is the first thing you can read in my artist statement:
“It is possible to create art without a mind, but it is impossible to do it without a soul. Your art will look exactly like your soul does, it will be a mirror of your truest ego, of your deepest desires, of your strongest feelings and hopes. Whoever knows how to look at it will be able to see the whole you in your art. It’s not easy to show one’s soul so completely naked, that is why you have to truly need it in order to find the way and the courage to create it.
If you do not need it like air, it is not art.”
SURREALISM AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM
I think Expressionism and later the Abstract Expressionism movement that was inspired by Expressionism, next to Surrealism, are the closest to my way of thinking and feeling about art and closest to my statement about why I’m doing it.
Even if I am a black and white photographer, color plays a big role in why I’m attracted to these art currents I was talking about so far.
Somehow my need to create (en)Visionography comes also from my memories about these modern currents and the desire I always had, from when I was a teenager, to voice my opinions about art in a personal way.
(en)Visionography, as a reaction to traditional photography, and the fact that I’m aiming through it to talk about a new kind of photography, a photography closer to art, a photography that finds its inspiration not in the outer world and the subject photographed, but in the artist himself, can be compared with these artists’ reactions to what was happening before them in art, and to their need to make art more profound and more meaningful. And what can be more meaningful than talking about the human side of the world as each of us experiences it?
I never looked at art as a spectator. I always felt like a participant in the world of art, with my drawing work, my architectural design work, and my photography too. I may not have been able to admit it from the beginning, because admitting and realizing that you are an artist is one of the most difficult things in our society that relies on material concepts rather than spiritual ones, but I always felt it and always acted on it, even when it wasn’t in my best interest. Related to how one feels as an artist, I am talking about this more in my article About Creating Art and Fine Art Photography. Among others, you can find there the answer to the question if artists are crazy.
And because I believe in expressing what we are and what we feel in our work, now is the time for me to invest all I have, my experiences and all the things I’ve learned and practiced so far, in photography. I hope my experiences can help others too to use their experiences to create what they feel, to express themselves and find the answers.
HOW ALL THIS TRANSLATES FROM ART TO PHOTOGRAPHY?
WHY I WORKED WITH INTENTIONAL CAMERA MOVEMENT
I needed to make this long introduction because always my work starts from something that has happened in my life, from my experiences or from how I react to what I’m seeing in front of me, and because this has a lot to do with my relationship with art throughout my life, I needed to explain it, so you can understand better the path of my creative vision when I make a photograph and, if useful, to use it in your work too.
The image in this article (I’m repeating it here so you don’t need to scroll up to see it again) was created during my previous workshop in New York, and the idea for it came after quite a few experiments I have made with ICM – Intentional Camera Movement over a long period of time, trying to find the right emotion and the right way to express myself with this technique. I believe working on something in the background and thinking about it for a certain amount of time will help surface the idea we are looking for, sometimes in unexpected ways or in a hard to explain manner.
This is what happened now, and in retrospect, I can understand that this image was the result of me relating myself to all the things I have presented in this introduction. It is about my love for Impressionism, for strong colors and strong emotions, it is my quest for expressing myself in different ways, by using different techniques and approaches different from the usual ones. It is my way to travel from art to photography. I think subconsciously I was influenced by my love for Impressionists, for van Gogh and for the Fauvists in this image and this is how my mind and soul reacted to what they planted inside of me with their art.
I am not sure if you can see these ideas in my image but I can see them clearly in the way I worked with light, in the way I processed this image, and especially in the technique I used to capture this image.
I thought a sharp image would never be able to express what I’m feeling about the scene and about the memories I wanted to express in this image. I needed to make things blurry, to make them not obvious, I needed to invite the viewer to dream about something, to be free and leave themselves open to being moved. This is why I worked with ICM to make this image.
It is not the first time I’m working with blur and motion in my images if you remember my series Shadows of a Soul or more recently, Fluid Time. In Fluid Time I used the technique of tilting a tilt-shift lens to create a specific blur away from my main point of interest. But there I still had a sharp area in my image so the dream was still not perfect. What I’m trying to do with this image is to go all the way in removing all sharpness and all of this relationship with the reality I’ve captured, so I can move away from it and into my own reality, and there connect with my memories. I think removing all sharpness can transport me and the viewers from reality into the dream and leave us there to live our memories.
This is the intention of this image. If I managed to express what I had in mind and what I felt, this remains to be decided by you the viewers. For me, this image means traveling back in time to find the sensations and emotions I felt and re-create them in this image.
As you can also see, it is a continuation of my dual chromatic experimentations with blue and yellow-based colors, that started a few years ago with Ancient Glow and continued more recently with Manhattan Blues and Blue Memories.
In a way, I can say that this is a personal interpretation of the way the Fauvists were using their bold colors. They used to work with more colors, but I choose to work here with only two complementary colors because what I’m trying to do is still to re-create the feeling of a black-and-white photograph while working with color.
Maybe I didn’t answer all the questions I made in the beginning of this article. But I believe that sometimes answering the questions is not the most important part, but making them is what matters. Trying to step off the beaten path and look at things in a different way is the sparkle that creates the flame which will burn in the soul of an artist, making him question the world and search for answers, even if he will not always find them. And even if one finds the answer, this only leads to more questions, to going deeper into imagining a perfect world and searching for the truth.
Is there really a truth? Is there really one and only truth in art? Is there really a way art has to look to be called art? More questions to be explored in the future. Maybe in the next article.
If you have the answers, I would be very curious to hear them, so share them in the comments for the world to hear. And if you have questions, I’m very curious to hear them too.
Related to the subject of this article, you may find interesting my article About Creating Art and Fine Art Photography that treats the subject of how-to and why create fine art photography.
FURTHER STUDY RESOURCES
FINE ART BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY, ARCHITECTURE PHOTOGRAPHY, LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHY
You can find more resources about fine art black and white photography, (en)Visionography, long exposure photography and architecture photography in my extensive collection of photography tutorials. To receive my future tutorials directly via email you can subscribe to my website.
Learn more about how to create fine art photography, from vision to processing and the final image in my video course From Vision to Final Image – Mastering Black and White Photography Processing, in my video tutorial Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine Art Photography – Creating (en)Visionography, in my book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, or by attending one of my workshops.
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Julia Anna Gospodarou is an internationally acclaimed award-winning photographer, an architect with a Master’s degree, a best-selling author, and a highly sought-after educator, teaching workshops and lecturing around the world. Founder of (en)Visionography™ and creator of Photography Drawing™, author of the best-selling book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, multiple times awarded in the most important photography competitions worldwide (Two-Time International Photography Awards IPA Photographer of the Year 2016 & 2021, World Photography Awards SWPA Top 10 Finalist, and Hasselblad Masters Top 10 Finalist, as well as 100+ more awards), widely published internationally in books and magazines, Julia is passionate about art and photography and striving to spread the ideas of fine art photography and (en)Visionography all over the world.