These days we seem to take photographing, painting, sketching...all forms of recording the world around us, for granted. Since man painted images on cave walls thousands of years ago, there appears to have been the need in conscious beings to record what they see. Why?
Maybe it is a subconscious need to have an aide memoire because we don't trust our memory enough to remember it just as we saw it. Maybe it is form of wishing to own what we see around us, to control it. There again, maybe it is a need to fix the transient present for fear it will pass us by never to be recorded again, thus making us more acutely aware of the shrinkage our time. Or, in more abstract images, to capture the shape of feelings, the colours of the soul, from the black of despair to the effulgent light of ecstasy because the more conceptual or ephemeral the thing we are recording the greater our need to give it tangible expression.
Of all the forms mentioned above, photography has the potential to be the most immediate. Yet one of the most important decisions taken by any artist is to ally chosen style to objective successfully. For example, in the search to express beauty, a one minute, two line sketch by a master can capture the subtle, deft curves of a naked body with a sensuous beauty and grace that brings it to life, whereas an oil painting of the same shape might take days or weeks because it seeks to give substance and texture to the tones and touch of the flesh as well. A photograph of a dancer taken at a 1000th of a second is able to freeze movement whilst still suggesting the speed and agility of the person being photographed, whereas a long exposure can stretch the movement of that same dancer across a stage as if he or she is being followed by the ghost of that dance.
Now that everyone who owns a phone owns a camera that, literally, has a memory which can hold hundreds of images we can 'recall' at the touch of a button, has this almost too easy recording of instant images become a casual routine, a substitute for really looking at the world around us? A way of feeling we have more control over our surroundings? Just as the idea of collecting 'friends' on Facebook has undermined the true notion of friendship by giving the same name to fleeting acquaintance as to long lasting, loyal companionship, so many of these fleeting photographs have become possessions to give us the comfort that our existence is ratified by these indiscriminate connections to people and place.
So much of what we do these days with modern technology seems to deflect us from any depth of 'reflection'. And maybe that is exactly its function, to make life 'easier', simpler. However, when we contemplate a work of art, whether painting, drawing, sculpture or photograph, it encourages us look into, through and beyond it, because we sense not just the technical skill that went into its making but the thought, the emotion, and the measured intent that led to its creation.