Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Musings on art

Jeff Tweedy from Wilco commented in one of his interviews that he doesn't believe music makes us feeling anything, but that music makes us recognise what we already feel.

Mostly, I think he's spot on. People are drawn to art that "speaks" to them, which is a pretentious way of saying it makes us feel "I've felt like that!". When art mirrors our feelings and individual experiences as something universal, we feel validated. Recognising that most of your emotions and feelings are felt by millions of others throughout their own lives is both humbling and amazing at the same time.

Because we experience the world through the subjective, complex, personal and singular filter that is our brain, this makes many crave the very opposite - a collective experience. It's why people love rock concerts, religion, sports events or protests; they are a way to temporarily cease being alone and individual and become part of something bigger. No one feels the way we do exactly, but collective experiences make us feel we aren't doomed to always be alone and misunderstood. Just consider Beatlemania or Woodstock.

I'm not sold 100% on Tweedy's comment though. Any art form, especially music, can be manipulative. Big, singalong choruses and epic crescendos can make us feel what we want to feel. Lets also not forget music can be quite a status symbol as well - it can literally change or shape the way we feel about ourselves and how others see us.

In essence though, we are drawn to artists who make something we feel a listenable or viewable experience. Or as an alternative, we find an artist who sees the world and reacts to it in a similar way. Radiohead's themes of alienation and helplessness in Ok Computer resonated with millions of people, but it doesn't mean all their fans are lonely and depressed. It is just a relief to find others who recognise and interpret the world the same way we do. Shared understanding can be all too rare.

Like other art forms, photography acts the same way. People are attracted to visionary photographers who have managed to interpret the world in the way the viewer sees it, wants to see it, never saw it before, or wants it to be. Photographers who reinterpret the banal, or capture moments of extreme beauty or extreme sadness resonate with those who feel deeply about the subject. Sometimes a photo perfectly captures or reveal a personality and for a moment we can feel something is all ours, all summed up in that one photograph. I have seen people break down and cry when they see a photo of a loved one that mirrors how they see that person or animal and that photo becomes a tangible representation of both the person and their idea of the person. It makes it real.

I think this is why a lot of my zoo photography focuses on portraiture that captures personality, rather than an 'environmental' shot of a "lion resting" or similar. I have always been very aware of each animal as an individual and I'm always patting sheep or cows or other animals that do not get the same kind of attention or thought as dogs or cats, or the respect of lions and gorillas.

Here's a photo I have taken of a male silverback. Some people will comment on how "human" the expression or behaviour is, but I try to show we aren't the only species on the earth who are intelligent and emotional.

(Buy this photo here )

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