Are all photographs constructed?
As photographers do we actively ‘construct’ the images that we make, after all we select a frame’ to capture from the world around us and then go on to make decisions about exposure, focus, depth of field, what type of film we use or whether we shoot in colour, monochrome, slide or digital and what type of camera we will use to make the image – large format, SLR or DSLR or even a mobile phone. Each choice that we make is a step toward the creation or ‘construction’ of an image.
We may not, as Gregory Crewdson does, build elaborate film-type sets or setup staged shots of streets like Jeff Wall but, surely we still construct our images, either for public consumption or a more personal use. Consider the following three images :-
Ophelia: Gregory Crewdson
Gregory Crewdson has conceived an idea, he’s designed and built a set, added the model and photographed the resulting image but, there is no way that you can visit the scene where the image was taken, it exists outside of reality so is literally an image constructed for display
Nude on Beach: Bill Brandt
Once again the photographer (Bill Brandt) has conceived an idea for an image he wants to make, but rather than construct an elaborate mockup of a beach he’s actually chosen to go there, to take a model with him and instructed her to pose in a certain way. It is still, I believe, a constructed image but, you could visit the site where this image was made and try to see for yourself the decisions some of the decisions that were made on the day. To me, its ‘real’ in a way that Crewdson’s Ophelia is not.
Crescent Street: Alan Harris (Author)
Finally, this is my own image – don’t think that I’m ranking my work alongside that of Gregory Crewdson or Bill Brandt as this is not my intent. The image here has been captured in a man-made environment, none of the buildings or surfaces are natural. Although the area is derelict (and has been for some time) its still ‘natural’ in the sense that I haven’t built it – its something I’ve seen in the past that has triggered a photographic response from myself. Is it a constructed image? Yes, it most definitely is, I’ve taken the original scene and added to it a sheet of white A3 paper on which I’ve written in black marker the opening lines from Gwalia Deserta XXXVI. Its an image made in a monochrome aesthetic, not produced for mass consumption but for myself. Its not an image that would ever have occurred naturally and therefore, to my mind, its constructed.
However, I cannot say that all my images are made in this way, with this process in mind – many are very much ‘spur of the moment’ or ‘snapshot’ type images made, just to see what the ‘thing’ in front of the camera looks like as a monochrome photograph.
Conceptually and aesthetically I want to create images that are ‘faithful and true’, something that will accurately reflect or represent what was in front of the camera – “The thing itself” if you will…..