Part 4 – Project 2: Exercise 2

Earlier in Part Four you considered the argument that the ‘mechanical’ nature of photography precludes it from being considered an art.

Does this make photography a medium uniquely suited to portraying time and the passage of time?

I think that everything we have seen so far shows that photography is perfectly suited to capturing time, and can be done so in both a scientific and an artistic way. As an example, Dr Edgerton’s photographs were never meant to be artistic, they were more like experiments. ‘“Don’t make me out to be an artist,” stated Edgerton. “I am an engineer. I am after the facts. Only the facts.”‘ yet, there is art and beauty in the images he captured (I particularly like ‘Milk Drop Coronet‘).

Photography gives us the ability to freeze a moment in time with a short shutter speed, or show the passage of time with a longer exposure. The resulting pictures can be practical and utilitarian (e.g. Muybridge’s Galloping Horse), or they can be beautiful and intended to be art (see some examples here or here), or, like Edgerton’s, they can be both.

Can other creative art forms deal with the concept of time to the same extent?

The only art form that deals with it to the same degree, and possibly more, would be moving image – cinematography, animation, films etc. although, as discussed in the course book, these are offshoots of photography anyway and are, essentially, just large numbers of photographs strung together.

Other forms of art like painting, drawing and sculpture can depict moments of time, but not in the same way. These works are created over a period of time and often, at least partly, from someone’s imagination. The specific details are not always accurate either as an artist can add or take away anything they like, which cannot be done on a raw, unedited photo.

The passing of time can be shown in a similar way to photographs produced from several different shots combined as one, as discussed in the course (or like Cruikshank’s etching work), but they can’t be produced instantaneously. You cannot just decide on a scene you want to capture and then do so if you are drawing or painting it. The quickest artist in the world could not sketch as quickly as a shutter can open and close.

A sculpture, painting or drawing can capture a frozen moment in time, and the kind of movement implied in a longer photograph exposure could feasibly be drawn or painted with the blurred effect that a photographic still would capture. The issue is that it would either come from the artist’s imagination or would be copied from a photograph anyway. The naked eye does not see the intricacies of movement, and so the only way to capture what’s really happening is via photography (or in the still frames of a video).

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