PHOTOGRAPHIC ESSENCELESS I In today’s world there is a growing phenomenon of photography being used as a tool instead of being an intention. The purpose is no longer to take a photograph. A photograph is taken with the purpose of something. It’s taken to serve, not to be. For example, a wedding photographer takes every picture to capture the wedding, a fashion photographer takes pictures to represent the product and a documentary photographer takes pictures to capture an event. Sadly, this basis for photography does not end where the limits of the commercial realm end. After telling people that I do not do commercial work, they conclude I am a conceptual photographer. This insinuates I have an intention for each photograph I take and that I had an idea preceding the moment the picture itself was taken. The fact of the matter is that I believe the nature of photography is in the contrary process. I have referred to photography as a ‘medium’ many times, sadly using the definition given to it by those I now realize I strongly oppose. Photography itself is not a medium but an act. It’s an act of intuition that is not led by an idea but by an impulse. View the act of photography as the act of sex. The act of sex would naturally ‘serve’ to ensure the survival of a species, but only rarely is this the intention of the sex. The act of sex itself is generally the intention, without any goal of reproducing. It’s an intention that finds its origin in subconscious processes and can be referred to as an ‘urge’. People who disagree with this would often do so on religious grounds. These are religions that teach that sex itself should have a purpose rather than being the result of an urge that needs to be fulfilled. In the same way, these religions teach that humans themselves have acquired an intention before their being. They claim that people were ‘created’ with a goal in mind, rather than being a logical result of a stand-alone act. The same misconception has hurt photography. Photography is seen as a medium and photographs are seen as things created with a goal in mind. They are no longer accepted as the result of a stand-alone act, the ruins of a fulfilled urge. I strongly oppose the idea that they should be shot for something, not because of something. Taking pictures is something I do because I feel like doing so. This is why I take pictures, not whatfor. When I walk the streets I can feel visually provoked by something I see, after which I will point my camera and press the shutter. I don’t do this because I want to show other people what I saw or because I want to keep it for later. In fact, I don’t consider if it’s even valuable to take the picture. The picture is taken because I wanted to take it and this is the only context that can be given to it by default. Do not get confused and automatically assume the picture looks the way I wanted it to look, because the picture is not a visual intention but the result of an action. A picture almost always turns out differently than how I saw it, but it usually captures how I experienced the subject at the time of experiencing an ‘urge’. A picture might look blurry and this is hardly ever intended, but looking at it afterwards it makes sense that this is the way I experienced the subject. To further clarify: the image is blurred because I was walking quite fast, which embodies my experience of encountering the subject even better than an image without motion would have done.
PHOTOGRAPHIC ESSENCELESS II Now that we have neglected the idea of photographs having an essence before acquiring an existence, it leaves us with one question: when do photographs acquire an essence? Maybe this is a bad question given that we have ruled out the moment before they are taken, so it must be after they are taken. It may sound very logical, but this initial purposeless of my photographs is something that, at certain times, confronts me more than the initial purposeless of my own life. For me the beauty is that this is the point where finally me and my pictures begin to merge. As a human being I suffer from the same lack of given essence as my own photographs do, yet both me and my photographs acquire some sort of essence once a book is created and work starts getting published. To the rest of the world this is where I become ‘a photographer’, because they can see the results of my photographic urges. Along the same line, this is where my pictures themselves become testaments to the moments I felt like pressing the shutter. When I have my pictures combined, the context in which I place them may give them an essence. They start to serve a purpose because I give this to them afterwards, for example by being part of a series. This might be a ‘project’ where I take pictures of prostitutes, but the word project does not correctly verbalize the way the pictures were taken. The series came to be because prostitutes asked me for sex, to which my response was impulsively asking them for pictures instead. I got addicted to this experience and thus repeated it. Not to make a series, but simply because I couldn’t stop doing it. Afterwards I label it as a series, publish it as a series and the pictures serve a purpose as a part of this. I have given my photographs an essence by giving them this new contextualized place within my body of work. They get placed as dots, every single one as important as the others because together they connect the line of my experiences. The photographs then start giving something back to me, they give my existence an essence: that of being a photographer. They contextualize me in the same way that I choose to contextualize them. Indirectly the photographer ends up giving meaning to his own existence by repeating a meaningless act over and over again, yet being so fascinated by this action that it does not stop him from doing so. Jamèl van de Pas May 2017