Virtue, Virtuality and Art

Following on from yesterdays post about my rejection of digital images and/or prints as valid expressions of an artists thoughts and feelings, I thought I should see what thinkers and philosophers have said.

By coincidence I am (slowly) reading some early notes and essays of Ezra Pound and discovered a page on his notes on the need for “virtue” in any work of art – it seems this does not translate well from the Ancient Greek: ἀρετή “arete” and the meaning in English is confused, but in essence, my understanding of Pounds’ thesis is that only a work where the artist is able to directly be involved in the work – to be “in touch” physically in some way with the work presented, can the essence, the spirit the “virtue” of that work be relayed to the person viewing or hearing it.

In other words, the copy of a painting or sculpture has no “virtue” – poetry or music which is copied has no “virtue” (of course a piece of music can be played as the composer intended or even interpreted by another artist, but if the structure is rearranged or the words interpreted (or translated) – the “virtue” of the original artist is lost.

An artist can of course take the creation of another person and add their expression of it – then this becomes a different piece of work – perhaps better, often not.

I am considering here only digital recording and reproduction – it is the same for any digital recording – music, images or now three dimensional recording.

As soon as the artist has created a composition and then recorded it digitally as a piece of computerised binary code, the artist has lost contact with the expression they were after – there is no “virtue” in the work.

No manner of further digital tweaking or manipulation can revitalise this “virtual” entity – it looks, sounds or feels similar – but it is dead.

Not necessarily worthless – a good copy can be useful, a mnemonic for the original or a way of encouraging the audience to seek the real piece of art but there is no way I can see how a digital print of a digital image ever has any virtue or value above the cost of the ink and paper – the artist cannot show me the virtue they saw of the moment(s) in a virtual presentation.

As I write this, I am thinking that it should be possible to use the latest digital recording equipment to interpret an idea, a scene or a person and use what tools the equipment has to “capture” this and present this to a viewer – I suppose, if the manipulator has skill and, more importantly, talent this could be called digital art – or simply – art. But the “virtue” as described by Pound, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca and many other Wikipedia contributors, is lost – it can only be dead as no life was ever given to it and it can be endlessly, exactly cloned by anyone with access to a computer.

There is no digital art, is there ?

The Value of an image

Stating the ‘value’ of anything is simply a way of placing its desirability in relation to other, similar, items or to establish its usefulness in relation to a situation (a lifebelt to a drowning person for example is very valuable).

If photography is used to show images which cause a reaction which helps in any way – the image of a naked, burnt child in Vietnam, a Mother bathing her child in Japan who was crippled by mercury pollution, a Spanish soldier falling dead – these images are photographs which were made to be seen in a magazine and can be seen on a screen or on a wall or in a magazine and have a high value, they do something.

But to put a price on an image which is a digital presentation on a screen, or a printed version of this is, for me, ridiculous.

I have just put some prints into an exhibition locally – a little gallery asked me to let them show a few of my new photographs, so I printed some (on paper and glass) on a theme – there are five other photographers showing. Most used digital equipment, edited this with software and get them printed. They then ask hundreds of euro for these ‘prints’ – how can this ‘value’ be determined – by pressing a button hundreds, thousands of similar prints can be created, to me this is obscene.

I could not give any value to my prints, made in my darkroom. I was happy to show my ideas and what I am doing, but it is over 35 years since I had my last exhibition (where I sold stuff) and I am returning from a twilight zone into the light again after all these years.

A digital recorder (phone, table, camera etc) can record an important event and can be used to manipulate light to show a pleasing or a disturbing image, in this case the ‘camera’ operator should be rewarded by society for their perception – but as a digital image is only a lump of binary code, intrinsically it is almost worthless.

A crafted piece of paper, or glass, tin – whatever – with an image which shares a feeling or message is unique – the artist has touched it and put life into it and is sharing this – it can have true value – I hasten to add “in my opinion

I have stopped looking at any digital images if possible (it isn’t of course) and refuse to digitalise anything I make, so I doubt you will ever see my recent work unless you go to a gallery which is showing it, or, better still, come and stay with us and sit with us looking at prints and plates.

There is so much dross, overwhealming all media and so many people are using awful apps to make more rubbish (hipstamatic, ghost image camera etc) – it is sad – after many years I now refuse to use or own a telephone and limit my keyboard time (or try to) to an hour a day – slowly I am getting free

The Song of a Shadow

A book which has influenced my thoughts recently is, “In Praise of Shadows” by Junichiro Tanizaki – there are many free downloads,here is one – is a very short, but I found it deep and enchanting.

Without shadows, we are blind, we could not see anything. I often wonder what the weight of a shadow is – or is it a negative weight as it is where fewer photons fall – but as a photon seems to have no mass than why should a shadow exist?

Whatever a shadow is, with them there can be no photography, so I am a borrower of shadows, a chaser of their beauty.

Collodion, wet-plate photography, suits me well as the shadows I borrow briefly in my cameras and put onto glass plates are more elusive than usual. I use a lot of light which I cannot see as it is ultra-violet. For nearly 50 years I have used the Zone System in all photography I have done, often cheating a lot when using roll film, but I try to use the principles set out by Ansel Adams in his Basic Photo Series of books. Applying this to collodion is a challenge as the lighting is more difficult to “see”, but the shadows are there as my friends and help me to gather the silver sunbeams in the right order.

Here is todays effort to get a plate of my son Jack, it may be one of the last of this particular camera/lens combination (a 360mm Rodenstock ‘Portrat’ Petzval on a 12″x10″ Watson?) I will be trying a 360mm Flor tomorrow. I found out he actually took a picture of me taking a picture of him with his ‘new’ Olympus OM1 – 16 seconds at f3.5 (me, not his).

Jack Tidswell taken by his father and taking his father

A Gentleness of Shadows

We are offering our accommodation and all the photographic facilities at Villa Roquette for workshops and photographic services – the next collodion wet-plate workshop is the end of January 2015, run by Jon Brewer, book before the new year for a special price.