I’ve finally realized why I love photography. Last week, I went to see a show of platinum/palladium prints by one of the living masters, George Tice. I met George in 2005 when I took a workshop with him at what was the Maine Photographic Workshops. I can say emphatically that he is one of the best photographic printmakers I’ve ever encountered. I remember holding some of his platinum prints in my hands—without the separation of glass; without glare; without the formality of gallery walls surrounding me. The tones, the way he articulates space, the depth of the detail all combine to present the original capture in a way that is completely unique. It was the kind of haptic experience that is rare when encountering art.
The exhibition presented 16 of Tice’s images. It is rare to see such large (20x24) examples of platinum prints executed so flawlessly. A few of my favorites:
But it was looking at this image of lily pads that brought the epiphany.
I stood in front of it for a long time. I left myself in it. When I emerged, I realized that the few times I connect with a photograph is when I am reminded that this medium, invented to perfectly depict truth, is capable of shedding that expectation and can express instead, an abstract rendering of the world. Lily pads become circles; reeds become lines; reflections become brush strokes; and, all of what I think I know—is gone. For a few moments, the burden of association is lost and I am floating alone in depths of tone.
This is when I love photography.
When the medium born to depict reality, doesn’t. No other art form is capable of producing this kind of exchange—an expectation of an exact record, only to strip that preconception away, leaving form in its place.
This is what makes photography so distinct. It isn't its ability to capture light. It isn't its ability to capture time. It is its ability to exist under the guise of reality while simultaneously being capable of advocating escape from it.