Fine Pop Art

I wrote in August about my strategic shift regarding social media. Honestly, I had just had enough of Instagram and so I disabled my account. It wasn’t just that my photos weren’t getting “likes” (that whole thing is absurd, like being back in junior high attempting to win a popularity contest). I suppose it is “pop culture”. I wasn’t popular in high school, and honestly I know that hasn’t changed. I’m okay with that. Some photographers may be pursuing popularity and fame. That’s not my aim.

The idea of pop culture or perhaps “pop art” (an actual style from the 1950s and 60s) got me thinking: just what kind of photographer am I? It’s often said in photography circles “you have to find your style”. At the same time, over time one’s style does evolve. I have been increasingly deliberate about what genre or style palette within which my photography manifests.

There is a problem, however. Most of us, myself included, are often unaware of the influences that shape us. My “style” is still developing, but that isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s a product of my life’s journey…my background, where I grew up, the people around me, etc. 

It occurred to me on a recent photowalk that my early photographic influences were the ”Ideals” magazines my mother collected. They contained full-page color images of lovely autumn scenery or the snow-covered lane complete with covered bridge and a sleigh framed my imagination within the confines of someone’s vision of the perfect American life.

The photographs weren’t bad in and of themselves. Just like postcards, they are technically well-composed with appealing subject matter. Of course, no fine art photography to be found in its pages. The Ideals Magazine was formed as a remedy for the collective post-war shock felt by many. The magazine sought a return to a normal that never really existed, but a life to which Americans were encouraged to embrace. (And in light of recent social unrest about race, let us admit that was a white and somewhat upwardly-mobile American culture).

As I reflect on this, I see that when I first started shooting with a camera, I had that ideal in mind. It did help me compose fairly pleasing shots. Postcards really. Snapshots. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. And later, when I found myself taking photography more seriously, I still visualized images in that idealism.

But I also experimented. I attempted to do some street photography. I was exposed to other’s work. I started using different vintage lenses and tried different things to see how I can capture a scene in a new way. I have even printed a couple shots that I might define as “fine art”. Not that they would get displayed in any gallery or published. But to my eye anyway they are more artistic. 

Perhaps art in our post-modern world is darker and not ideal. It taps into other emotions. Some of those emotions are unsettling. Idealism has its place, even in art. The photos I post that get more attention are the lovely scenes of nature, flowers, and woodland. I still love that. But I also want to push the boundaries a bit–to step up more imagery to the level of fine pop art :) 

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