Defining “Art”

July 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Guest post by Dan Burnett.

A good friend of mine many years ago told me that he defined art as “anything made for the sake of being made.”  Although at the time I found this really vague (and still do), I’ve always enjoyed this definition because that’s really the only reason I take photos; I take them just to take them.  I have never considered myself an artist by any means; I take photos mainly because it gives me an excuse to be outside more often, it’s challenging and fun, and because it’s an ongoing learning experiment as you try to perfect your style and learn new ones.

When I take photos I’m usually trying to do one of two things: show a subject or scene as I currently see it before me, or show an interesting or alternative perspective of the subject/scene that would normally be overlooked.

Recently I got interested in low-key photography, which I have found to be painfully challenging and frustrating – and incredibly fun.  I’ve always been a fan of shooting in black and white, and shooting black and white in low-key has allowed me to explore interesting and alternative perspectives of the items and subjects I’ve shot.

When I first started, I used myself as the subject while I figured out how low-key shots work.  I learned a lot about positioning light, longer exposures versus quick shots in high light, and how to control the shadows that add so much drama to the picture.  This is one photo from the first set I ever did, which illustrates a known form in an unknown posture and setting.

As I learned more about low-key, I began to experiment and came up with the idea of trying to capture falling water.  I experimented with different “waterfall” methods, finally settling on water being poured out of cupped hands.  I really enjoyed the reflections and shine I saw when I used reflectors to get the water to carry the light as it fell in this photo.

With objects, low-key photography can create shape and focus in the frame by the addition of the highlights created by the single light source, like in the photo below.  The contrast created between the light being carried by the water and the depth of the shadows behind the glass inspired me to do a whole set of wine related scenes.

One of my favorite low-key shots, this photo was by far one of the more technical photographs I’ve taken.  A relatively long shot with very low light, this picture captures both light and shadow, detail and abstract, disorder and pleasant ambiance.

Shooting low-key is great if you want to learn how to manually control light, finally figure out what that setting on your camera that you never use actually does, and spend an hour or two in a dark room.  It really is a neat style of photographic art, regardless of how you define it.



§ 2 Responses to Defining “Art”

  • CurtissAnn says:

    Thank you! I did not know that the type of photos that make my heart sing had a name– ‘low key’. You know, maybe I would use that term for the type of writing I like to do and read.

  • jesse says:

    “Art can be anything; all you have to do is change your mind.” – John Cage

    That first photo is exceptional. To me, it’s the one that balances on the abstract/familiar line you write about. The way the form softly recedes into shadow creates a feeling of curiosity while the edges along the “back” define a very elegant and beautiful line contrasted well with the negative space it creates.


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