Can simplicity have depth in photography?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the parallels and the differences between photography and painting. Because painting is (possibly, depending on your own viewpoint) about the process of creation by hand, brush stroke after brush stroke, and this contributes a large amount to the value of the finished piece. It gives you something to think about when you”’re looking at it. So when something is created by mechanical and electronic means and within a fraction of a second, what do we look to, when we’re trying to find the artist in the work? There seems to be a general belief that there’s skill involved in balancing images with complicated compositions – or even, not balancing them in order to say something, or balancing them so that what is actually complicated doesn’t seem so. Then there’s the inherent quality of photography that allows us to capture more detail in a scene than we could actually perceive at the time, and come back to marvel at it in the resulting image. It seems to be about having plenty to look at in a photograph.
So what happens when we have simple photographs? Can they only ever be suitable for superficial appreciation? Surely within minutes of browsing something like Michael Kenna’s work it’s clear that there’s something else to it, beause even though sometimes the compositions are pared down to the minimum, there’s something else there. And he does it, over and over and over again, and I remember seeing his stuff years ago and I still love the same images now that entranced me back then.
I like to shoot simply. I found out early on that to make my images work, I had to strip them down to the bare bones of what I was photographing before I was happy. But I wonder, when you’ve done that so much that you don’t have to think about it anymore, does it start to get repetitive? Is it too ‘easy’? I think it takes skill to suggest the form of something with only a couple of strokes of a brush but a simple photograph just doesn’t have the same foundation. I’m floundering a bit trying to distill my musings into a concise question but the closest I can get is:
What’s the value in simple images?