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|| News Item: Posted 2007-04-25

Preaching to the Choir: Grey
By Paul Myers, Brooks Institute of Photography

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
Need a metaphor?

Music will do.

There is a difference in approach between pop music and gospel. In Gospel, musicians sing about God. In pop, musicians sing about themselves.

Cultivating an ethical approach as a photojournalist entails having ideals and striving to attain them. You fail to reach your ideals again and again, struggling each and every day, and know that these failures bring you closer to understanding truth and the communication of truth as a storyteller. This struggle is worth it: it is worth it because you believe.

The pursuit of technical knowledge is the pursuit of beauty in the world.
The pursuit of a story is the pursuit of truth in the world.

The pursuit of a standard of beauty is the pursuit of the known.
The pursuit of the people's truth is the pursuit of the divine.

This is a meditation on ethics.

Ethics are our approach. An approach is the daily struggle with our humanity in relation to our ideals. By having ideals we accept failure. We also accept that our growth as humans and storytellers is a lifelong process. Over time this process blossoms into our philosophy of photography.

Philosophy, at its core, is a study that is uniquely human. It is the exploration of human subjectivity, what it means to be human, in relation to ideals, objectivity. Subjectivity and objectivity are not opposed to one another. One exists with the other. Objectivity is a set of ideals that inform our approach. Subjectivity is our human failing in attempting to achieve these great heights on a daily basis. Philosophy is a conversation between ideals and humanity that is born out of a search for understanding humanity by formulating questions in a manner that is uniquely human.

As such, a philosophy of photography arises out of photographing.

Cultivating an ethical approach does not involve merely making a choice between being "objective" or "subjective" as is so often the conversation. Having an approach as a photojournalist entails holding objectives (ideals) that are constantly being confronted by experiential subjectivity (humanity) on a daily basis in the work. Indeed, these ideals spring forth from the work and are projected back onto the work in the form of expectations and traditions. The circular relationship between our ideals and the daily realities of our work define our approach and become our ethic. It is this area between idea and action that we encounter the concept that guides us in our daily work.
People see beauty and call it truth.
People seek truth and find beauty.

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
This is a base difference between the poet and the poet.
One starts with the known and gives it light (streaming light).
One seeks truth and encounters light (revelation).

One holds a concept up to humanity.
One is held by humanity.

The relationship between truth and beauty is by no means dichotomous; truth and beauty are not black and white, good and bad, right and wrong, they are not opposites. They are two of many ideals that I have chosen to pair together because of their intimate connection. The shades of a photographer's understanding of beauty and truth are manifest in any given photographic situation and, depending on which is favored, the outcome varies.

The approach we employ, the base belief in one ideal as more important than another, informs the ways we see (feel) and act (photograph). The approach is confirmed with each exposure with the choice to give voice to one narrative or another. When we say we understand photography as a voice for the voiceless we are actually saying that truth gleaned from life experience is the voice of the voiceless. The power of the medium to voice for people who are not sought after, not noticed and not otherwise placed on the pedestal at the center of our culture starts with the people themselves and blooms into beauty because of their truth. This is the people's truth. This truth is self-apparent to the photographer who stops projecting a narrative structure onto the people (the subject) and allows the people to tell their story through the photographer.

Do you understand photographs as visual poetry?

Visual poetry is an interaction. We interact with other people, even as the fly on the wall, and communicate this interaction through our photographs. This is emotionally honesty in the search for truth. Indeed, this is the source of beauty that is found in truth. It is counterintuitive to be honest because honest puts us at odds with other approaches.

Imagine another approach.
Imagine if you only took photos out of fear.

What would you create?

Fear tames sight into seeing for fear of.
Fear boxes in the relationships.

Break free from the tradition of fear.

Act on impulse!


Visual poetry rejects fear. Visual poetry is feral.

Photo by Paul Myers

Photo by Paul Myers
At first visual poetry is tamed in the traditions of the field, it understands the canon, breaths the canon and later rejects the canon for the freedom of improvisation and a path of searching, a path of faith in the ideal. Searching towards light, towards life, towards truth in the utter insecurity and purity of utopian logic we encounter an edge. Once we notice this edge of the scene, an edge that has not yet been seen (known) and will never be unseen again. It is an edge that is now. Now reflected in the past and straining towards the future in each instance. Here, out on this edge, this is where I want to photograph.

And photographs, they feel with our audience. With our words and especially without them, photographs sense with us. They are not created to... they imagine with us. They do not point at... they transform with us. They are the point of... they are the story. Whether they achieve this or not is our burden. Ours alone.

Not only as the photographer but also as the audience, our burden is to see intensely. To burn the page, the screen, the print with our glare just as our eyes burn the scene and the subject until photography is a must, and we must expose the frame with all the solemnity and conviction of being human. This is photography. Any less is a waste of breath.

To fail again and again is our task and our greatest moment. Failure implies that we are striving for something greater than we have created thus far. Failure demands that we employ all the tools, skills, and experiences to their greatest potential. Failure proclaims that we are only beginning to grasp the enormity of our task and the all encompassing potential of the photographic moment. In failure we encounter faith.

Through hope we encounter the source of strength in our pursuit of these shades of truth.

With hope we continue forward without being perfect.

In hope we fail towards success.

(Paul Myers is a faculty member of the Visual Journalism Program at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, CA. Prior to his arrival at Brooks, Myers worked for a variety of publications including newspapers in Freeport, IL and Marysville, CA.)

Related Links:
Paul's member page

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