On Art, Photography, and Cinema


There is a certain place and mindspace for all forms of art and I cannot imagine one replace the other, even in their most practical applications. Haiku can’t replace limericks. Poetry can’t replace prose. Each form of music, and each instrument is unique. Some songs are sung, others performed. Painting with oil and with acrylic differ in technique, appeal and dimension. I have often come across loud statements proclaimed across rooms, even by influential photographers, of how photography is… dead. Doom and gloom as things go boom. They don’t say the same of the cinematic arts.

In truth, most photography serves hugely practical, self-serving purposes, and very little of it is truly in the realm of art, or even practical art. Photography thrives in such incredibly fundamental ways, in fact, far more prolifically and vibrantly than other forms. I often don’t correct statements from people with such negative world views. They’ve had their day, and the realisation must be arrived at organically. And I see it happening too.

Photography and cinema exist within their own spaces. The rationale and joy for each are vastly different even if their beginnings are inextricably linked, and certain common techniques used. As universal language, nothing else can transmit as much information, thought or ideas, even abstractedly, to as many minds around the world, instantaneously, as an image can. When they said that time and tide waits for no one, they certainly did not think of photography. Photography seeks to capture the infinitesimal from the infinite, to eternalise the fleeting and momentary, to see that which is beyond the obvious, and to bring the obvious back from oblivion. And when I unabashedly stare into the eyes within a portrait, sometimes for minutes on end, I am reminded why they are the windows into the soul.

I have sometimes paused movies at particular frames, in an attempt to gain an understanding of composition and lighting, to pinpoint exactly what moved me about that scene, and to see through the eyes of the camera. Oddly enough though, very few of these paused scenes would have made good photographs. Excellent cinema is so much more than a collection of stills. It is more than the craft, composition and lighting, and the storyline, and more than the actors in it. Perhaps in no other art is the whole so much greater than the sum of its parts, where cinema, as an art form, involves many other forms of art coming together for a common purpose. Perhaps this is why good cinema, as practical art, is very easily appreciable by a common mass—as learning, as entertainment, or an ordinary means of escape.

But here is the thing about any cinema. It demands a process from the viewer. Before watching a film, there is an active choice that the viewer has made… to offer it time, and mindspace. Photography makes no such demands. It merely catches your attention and then latches on, changing something, perhaps infinitesimally, forever.

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Better Photography.