Monday, December 3, 2012

Get the Picture?

The current issue of a weekly newsmag features an article about self-publishing, implying that it is the current and future way for writers to become known and (maybe) rich. It isn’t a new story for those of us who have chosen words as our raw material for the things we make. It isn’t even a very new story for any in the creativity game.

For instance, this past weekend I had a visit from two former colleagues, both creative types, committed to the visual arts, though one has now moved more into management (as I did), and the other supports his habit (of picture making) working in construction. Both are trying to stay current, I suspect, in a field that is still changing rapidly in terms of technology.

What all three of us have in common is that we come from an era when instant everything was just beginning to make inroads in our field. I started out in radio and TV when networks reached across the nation with kinescopes – actually film made from a TV screen – rather than true connected networks or cable. My younger colleagues were trained in chemical photography when the only "instant" pictures were Polaroid. There was a line of cameras called "Instamatic," but they were not much advanced over the box camera of the late 1890s. Today, of course, those cameras are only collectors’ items. A friend of mine over the mountain in our nearest city, a former White House press photographer, has a whole museum devoted to chemical photography, where once he had a thriving camera store and photo lab.

More than once in the last year, colleagues in the imaging business have shown me their latest tools. Small, complex, capable of doing on a chip the size of a thumbnail, accompanied by a laptop computer, what once required a few dozen people to accomplish.

We started talking (as old folks do) about "the old days," but the more we talked, the more our conversation focused on the "gee whiz" aspects of today’s technology. Even those with little or no training or experience can take good pictures, and by exposure to millions of images from millions of cameras, perhaps even learn what makes pictures good. But just as my generation worried that the cheap 35mm camera or the Super-8mm film camera in the hands of amateurs could put us out of business, we recognize what our predecessors knew: quality of image is more than the sharpness or the angle. There is a world of technique, not just technology, that must be mastered to deliver images and stories and art that go beyond the level of the best amateur or accidental producer.

You can write any story you may have, but if it doesn’t reach into the heart, as well as brain, of the reader, then you are just relating a story. What readers want is something richer than a storyline, something more visceral than a "who, what, when, where and why (and sometimes how)" telling. Regardless of your medium, there must be "art" in the artist. It doesn’t come out of a box, but out of the heart. For the reader, the delivery system isn’t as important as what is delivered.

The message is still the message.

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