Vibrant Colours and the Return of a King to Israel
A couple of days ago I started writing a piece about the Israeli electoral process. It was actually in the form of a critique on a piece I received from one of my many email correspondents. Perhaps correspondents is not the correct term -- these people send me lots of (sometime very interesting) "information" to which I rarely reply -- because I assume they don't expect a response. [The power of the blog! send your reply to the world!]
This particular correspondence was about the Israeli elections which are taking place as I pen these words. His article was, in my opinion, a very feeble attempt to explain the workings of Israeli democracy to his American "donors". I imagine most of his recipients are contributors to the charity for which this person works full-time. And I think if I was one of his donors, his cynicism about our system, when compared with that of the United States, would make me think more than twice about continuing my contributions to an Israel portrayed as so primitive a political society.
But I don't, cannot nor want to think like an American.
I usually resent Americans' understanding of democracy in general, especially when they posit that only their system, which many of them demonstrate by their lack of their understanding of it, is the essential form of democracy. I personally find it one of the least fair systems on the planet, Edomite in every aspect -- but I am getting ahead of myself and do promise to explain my position fully in the near future.
What I really want to address today is art and photography, or perhaps what makes photography an art form, an incarnation of artistic expression. Alfred Stieglitz went to great effort nearly one hundred years ago to successfully convince the world that photography equals art and art equals photography. I know I have previously addressed this topic.
I may also have covered other aspects of art/photography in the past. I have now written more than ninety articles, so it is hard for me recall all of them. I could of course do a "Google search", using the tools I so kindly put at my readers' disposal, but, well, I hope I say something new here, and more to the point, something worthwhile for you to take with you on your ongoing journey. Please feel free to use the search.
I believe photography, like painting in all its forms, to be a game of light, or play with light. Ansel Adams's Zone System requires some real blacks and real whites in any image. For a photograph or painting to be interesting, there needs to be a minimum level of contrast, a differential between dark and light. A flat, evenly lit photograph is precisely that, flat and evenly lit, and very unexciting. In fact boring. Rembrandt, for instance, very successfully, and beautifully, exploited the deep difference between dark and light, particularly in works set at night, faces lit by artificial sources.
Most textbooks exalt the soft light of the early morning and the late afternoon, going on to early evening immediately after sunset, the reds and yellow hues of the long wavelengths passing through the lengthened atmosphere. And this light really is beautiful. It is the type of light that every artist loves to capture, especially in oil, and very much on emulsion.
But I have discovered the harsh midday sun. Light which most experts advise you to avoid (except for "special" settings). I find this strong, bright light allows powerful imagery, puissant, dark, though small, shadows. The vibrancy and starkness of midday colours is very different from those at the beginning and end of the day. And very beautiful, very exciting in its own right.
Composition is an important factor in Art. People, non artists, take "snapshots" with their cameras. People are happy with these grab shots; they serve as a reminder of someone or somewhere they encountered. And this is important for them and for their continued existence. It is legitimate way to remember a passing, fleeting experience.
But no-one, including them, would want a twenty by thirty inch blow up of their work greeting them every morning, hanging on their wall.
Things just don't balance "right". Textbooks try to define, in my opinion unsuccessfully, the term composition. Mundane situations can be very interesting. Spectacular locations can be boring. Things to sit just so, parts must relate. The still lifes of the classic artists are exquisite. Photographs of the Grand Canyon by tourists are usually dead.
You can never get away from technique. It's the mortar that holds everything together. You need to be in focus, depth-of-field, correct colour reproduction, no blur -- hold it still! An artist can exploit the lack of these as an interesting technique, but that is his technique. I love to use movement in my work. It adds an additional dimension. But not in every photograph.
My cousin regularly travels to many exotic locations. He shares them with us on his Facebook site. His composition is reasonable. But he takes pictures with his mobile phone. So they are out of focus, lack colour depth and saturation, are flat. I keep on telling him to get, even a small, good quality pocket camera, to keep in his bag on his travels. I'm not sure he understands what I am trying to tell him -- he is just happy "sharing" what he sees with all of us -- and for this I too do thank him.
And what puts it all together for a successful work of art, is the ability of the artist, using any medium whatsoever, to see the end result of his work before he starts. To see the end result in her mind's eye. Art is the ability to actualise a vision into a physical format, be it sculpture, photography watercolours or mosaics.
I have always been interested in reflections. Reflections in this context does not mean taking a picture in a mirror or window, where right is left and left is right and text appears reversed. That's not making a statement, not adding to the world's resources.
For a "true" reflection, you must add another dimension. I would define a reflection as "two for the price of one" -- two images on one canvass, two stories from one narrator. Two differentiated images, integrated into one. Both sides of the street, a bus driver and what he is looking at, the shopper and the window display, the Starbucks coffee drinker, logo and the passersby.
Integration -- can you separate the parts? Two stories or one? Or two stories and a new one in the combination? Is she drinking that paper cup of coffee inside or outside the café bar? Is he in the inside the building in front of the viewer or perhaps the one behind? Or on the street with me?
Of course all of the above elements of a "good" image must also be present in your reflection.
Unintentionally, I have found myself adopting this "two stories in one" technique in some of my writing. It provides added interest and a new layer of complexity. The reader and the viewer are challenged. Our world is no longer the simple place it once was. No political party in today's ballot will achieve a majority, that's for certain -- none ever has in Israel. This is a feature of our electoral system, like that in Italy -- and some other democratic countries too. It is our political reality, whether we like it or not. It has always been like that, even in the time when workers were "forced" to vote for the Party, under the threat of losing their jobs.
What's new today is that no party today will even come near to achieving a dominating position. Two, perhaps three, parties may achieve similar numbers. Political Gridlock. Some may get together, shotgun style, to form a government, to last a short time. And then more elections, or perhaps other attempts at new groupings. As in Italy, our governments can be recreated, redefined and redesigned without reference to the populace. And then . . . .
There are many ideologues amongst us who believe our political system is part of a Godly plan to return Jewish rule to our Land and to our People. When I was a student at Mercaz haRav Yeshiva, I too thought something like this about our political system. But it just isn't true. The natural form of government for the Jewish people in its Land, is rule by a king, or perhaps in today's vernacular, a benevolent dictator.
May we achieve it soon, in our time . . . in our fast changing world. When Hussein Obama campaigned on a platform of change in the recent U.S. polls, I don't think he nor those behind his campaign had even a hint of the changes we are all about to witness.
Sit back and enjoy the ride . . . there's little or nothing we can do now . . . the process has begun.
But please enjoy my reflections in the meantime. (Yes, we have ended this story with a word from our sponsor.)
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and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.