On Perfection as a concept in photography.
This is maybe one of the greatest photography quotes I have ever read and it has so much meaning about how I express myself within the medium. That’s why it is now featured on my website.
What I've learned about perfection.
Let me just say this out right, this way we can move on to something constructive: You know that expression “picture perfect”? Yeah, well that’s BS. Perfection is doodoo and it does not exist.
I feel much better now that “I’ve said it out loud.” Ok; “written it” and not that loud to boot… you get my point.
For me, there's no place for perfection in the way I understand and relate to Art. Perfection is death. Perfection is fake. I wholeheartedly believe that perfection has no place in what I do. In fact, I find the whole idea completely preposterous. Good art is completely in the eye of the beholder. "But but but, what about Picasso, Shakespeare, Coppola, Cartier Bresson?" It's still subjective. You like Jackson Pollock? I do... but I know a ton of people who don't.
In fact, Life is kind of like a Jackson Pollock painting: it's downright messy but absolutely beautiful. Your life isn't perfect and neither is mine. Believe me... I'm not a perfect dad or husband: My kids often annoy me; I can be a hypocrite at times; I am sometimes insensitive and I don't get along with a large chunk of my French family so I cut them off by moving as far away as possible. ;-)
But, I love my life. I have a great family that loves me despite all my flaws and there’s nothing in my life that I don’t feel grateful for because I’m very lucky to be who I am and this “mess” is mine and it’s beautiful. It’s real and I love it.
What I love about photography and why I relate to it instinctively is —especially with photojournalism— the idea of honesty. Honesty can be ugly but it can also be very beautiful. It intrinsically leaves you vulnerable, human and at your most authentic. With all the fake news, bickering, and posturing we see and do on social media, I have a special need for something as close as possible to unadulterated truth to balance it out and stay sane. As an artist, my photos reflect my vision of life and that's why I don't pose my clients. I want to know and connect with my clients and form a relationship with them because I need to funnel that human connection in order to make art. That's why my photos are "messy"... or rather that’s why they are as unmanufactured as I can. Messy is alive. Messy is real and honest. Messy is truth.
Perfection is the enemy of art.
If you haven’t TLDRed by now, I’m giving you an out. Otherwise, sorry guys but I'm gonna drill this in further because it's important to this rant about Perfection. ;-)
In a simple sentence, if something is perfect there is nothing else to say about it. That's it. I personally find this frightening. Also, perfection means there is only one way to do things; it’s the end of creativity. Art is the anti-thesis of perfection because Art’s purpose is to reflect the maker’s viewpoint. If we could achieve Perfection in art, we would all agree on everything and that’s just not likely to happen any time soon.
Picture perfect makes you focus on the wrong things.
The reason I don’t resonate and like posed/photoshoped family or wedding photos is that it makes the photographer focus on the skills involved in creating the photograph instead of focusing on what makes those pixels, that alchemic reaction Art. Art is about intent; it has a point of view and it informs the outcome. Art in photography is like Jazz… it’s the notes you don’t play. Posed portraits personally don’t tell me anything about who the people in the pictures are.
I do photography because I feel I have something to say through my camera. It is 100% about empathy and love of the subjects I am photographing. That’s why I focus my energy on the vision, on what I say within that frame. Because it has to reflect the collaboration of their voice and mine so that it can be meaningful and tell a real story.
That’s why I sometimes dare to include soft focus photos in what I give to my clients. Sometimes, that soft focus photo you would otherwise discard is the one you need to keep because it says something powerful, unique and real… It has soul.
Let’s chase that chimera.
I find it incredibly freeing to have come to this realization (a.k.a. perfection does not exist). It allows me the wiggle room to make mistakes and to create beauty out of those oopses. I want to become a better artist tomorrow than the one I am today and I take pictures everyday for that reason. But I too chase the chimera of perfection in my photos because it’s what I need to strive for to become better… I told you… I can be a hypocrite. Listen, it’s complicated… Now where was I?
In photojournalism and documentary photography for families or for weddings, you can’t reschedule the moment. You can’t plan for that perfect moment because once it’s gone it’s not coming back and this is not something you can fake. That’s why the emotion the picture evokes is more important than the technique applied to create that photo. That’s why perfection is not something I worry about… because that picture whether technically perfect or not will still pull on your heart strings 1, 5 or 20 years from now.
And that… is what matters to me the most.