What I love about handmade photographs

I am a professional photographer making images that are used in publications and as stock photography, so that 99% of my work is used in print and/or on-line. Virtually none of my work is likely to end up as some kind of handmade photograph….. Yet, I am also a perennial student of the history of photography and a fan of all things photographic. So, I am interested in handmade photographs, even if I am not making them. Thinking about this seeming contradiction prompted me to write this blog.

I have been thinking a lot about handmade photographs because an old friend has launched great new “e-zine For Creative Photographers” called The HANDMADE Photograph. I will be writing for her regularly in the future.

What I love about all photographs is that by definition they are somehow rooted in reality. The reality in front of the camera may be controlled, as in studio work or it may be found, as in my own work. But 95% of the time, photographs start with some reality in front of the camera.

By comparison, painting, sculpture, drawing, etching and the like start with a blank canvas, stone, sheet of paper, etc. In those media, the creator of the art starts with nothing and assembles their finished work, drawing on their imagination, experience, passions, etc.

By comparison, photographers start with and create their work by reacting to the reality in front of them. Even images that are obviously contrived are built on that reality, since the photographer creating clearly constructed images chooses their subject matter, their position, their lens, etc. to build on or possibly counter or challenge with the viewer’s assumption about the “reality” of the photograph. Similarly, the viewer of the same photographs presumes (sometimes only subconsciously) that the photo they are viewing is based on some reality.

What I love about the best handmade photographs is how they take that presumption of “reality” and modify, subvert or invert it. Using some kind of hand-working results in a new and often unique hand made photograph. Some of the best “hand working” of images uses alternative media, processes and presentation formats which similarly suggest another definition of “reality” than the one portrayed by the “real” part of the same hand made photograph.

A simple example of this is a landscape photograph printed (and hand-worked) using the 19th century cyan-otype process (resulting in an image with the cyan-otype deep blue and few subtle tones.) The reality of the landscape in the image suggests a reality that seems possibly contemporary to the viewer. The cyan-otype process on the other hand suggests a different reality, typically a more historical one.

Another example is friend’s work, Sculpted Photographs where she takes two dimensional close-up photographs of cars and works them by hand, creating wonderful three dimensional sculptural objects.

It is the mixing of these different “realities” which is at the heart of many great handmade photographs and why I am so happy to be part of the new handmade photograph publication The HANDMADE Photograph. I hope you will take a look at it.

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