On the Possibilities of Creation in Photography (1965) Otto Steinert 

In Joan Fontcuberta: Estética fotográfica. Una selección de textos, GG, 2003, p271-280. 

Photography, considered as a means of visual creation, must face today, outside the circle of initiates, a deeply rooted collective prejudice: current opinion only sees a simple reproduction mechanism that finds its expression in an unlimited run of utilitarian tests and in millions of vulgar photomemories. A progressive technique that is continually applied to perfect itself and an industrial development that, at the same time, simplifies the image manufacturing process, have currently contributed to opening the field of photography, an instrument available to everyone, to a public lacking the gift of knowledge. technical and incompetent in conceiving images. This enormous increase in the number of photographs has been intensified by the need for formal creation and the taste for images that exists in all men, but at the same time, it has necessarily had as a consequence the fact that photography has leveled to the taste of the masses. About this phenomenon, the lack of style and the alteration of quality constitute a favorable starting basis for the practical possibilities of photographic creation; However, this has a serious drawback regarding the theoretical conception of these possibilities themselves. 

Therefore we feel even more obliged, in this compilation Subjektive Fotografie 2, to encourage the efforts of all those who work with a new spirit in the synthesis of a photographic image that represents an original creation, under the values of the time, as well as all those who awaken the spirits to an authentic understanding of the quality of this image. This was already attempted in the first exhibition of the Staatliche Schule für Kunst und Handwerk. Saarbrücken, July 1951, and in the volume Subjektive Fotografie 1 (Brüder Auer Verlag, 1952). 

The plates in this book present characteristic examples of photographic works conceived from this point of view; Along with well-known names, we are pleased to see a large number of young, hitherto unpublished photographers. At the same time, we endeavour to analyze here the elements of creation in photography, and we will later examine the possibilities of photographic work in its various stages. 

We will try to apply a certain method without wanting to classify each image or each author within a certain category, and we do not intend to directly form value judgments regarding utilitarian photography. 

On a technological level, photography is the result of chemical and optical procedures that can be used and adapted by man according to his technical capabilities and his aptitude for creating images. We will designate the means that

we have at our disposal for creating images with the name of elements of photographic creation: in the process of image formation they condition each other. We will distinguish: 

1. The choice of the object (or motif) and the act of isolating it from nature. 2. Vision in photographic perspective. 

3. Vision within the photo-optical representation. 

4. Transposition in the photographic tone scale (and in the photographic colour scale). 

5. The isolation of temporality due to the photographic exhibition. 

1. Fundamentally, photography is always linked to the object, the choice of the object that will be represented, of the subject, will therefore have an essential importance in solving the problem of creating the image. The act of choosing a subject, of determining what object we choose and how we view it, is the beginning of the creation process. The theme (motif) reflects the spiritual attitude of the photographer and can be considered from the point of view of the history of styles, as an unquestionable criterion of the time. 

Photography has a short life, and in its artistic aspect, it has not yet been able to get rid of its character as a current technique, producing images, for this reason, it strives to expand the range of its themes. However, we believe that it is not the subject that triggers the impression produced, but rather the creative power of the photographer, who transforms the subject captured in the image. Opposed to this conception of Subjective Photography, in our opinion, is subject photography, in which the photographer becomes the image maker, enthusiast of a beautiful subject, and remains sterile in what concerns the dialectic of image creation. 

We have already mentioned the isolation of the theme concerning nature, the distinctive character of each image representation; This form of activity is so strongly rooted in our subconscious that we tend to forget that every procedure that tends to create images with the help of light has its origin in the dematerialization of the three-dimensional natural object, in its optical projection and in its reconstruction. photographic on a flat surface. 

2. Vision within the photographic perspective is a transposition factor that has become something natural for us. It benefits from a visual angle of considerable width, because the focal length of the camera reaches 50 to 70 degrees, while the vision of the human eye, constantly in motion, is clear and direct within a limited and narrow-angle, which is within a wider, but less clear, peripheral field of vision. We have all learned, and this also applies to non-photographers, to perceive nature not only through the normal and physiological vision of the surrounding world, by sight, but also from a photographic perspective, thanks to photographic representation. If a vision of this type gains value as a means of creation, it is only in its most exaggerated form, for example, by transferring important parts of the image to the foreground, expanding the visual angle with a wide-angle lens or making it smaller with a very focal length. long. 

3. We will first examine the negative effects that result from the appearance of the subject matter in a photo-optical representation. On many occasions, the greatest obstacle that photographic work encounters is absolute indifference in positive terms, the scientific neutrality with which photographic optics record, when constructing the image, both essential elements and superfluous elements. This faithful, but inopportune, record is totally opposed to the fundamental idea of all artistic creation, which consists of making abstraction, of knowing how to separate the essential from the contingent. First, the human eye receives all parts of the image as optical impressions of equal importance; but he who knows how to see is capable of eliminating on the psycho-optic level the elements that are annoying to conscious sensory perception and removing them from the vision of the image. In the course of its development, photography has undertaken many investigations to remedy these insufficiencies. His first recourse was retouching; Then the so-called art procedures were used that responded to the needs of abstraction (especially bromoleum has given great possibilities to eliminate annoying details). Other useful procedures for pictorial photography, the flou and the Duto lens, which reduce the importance of detail by dissolving the typical sharpness of anastigmatic objectives. In current photography we isolate the subject of nature in as narrow a frame as possible; We prefer composition based on large masses, with a clearly divided construction, and then we can move away from unimportant details, too intensely represented, thanks to the technique or the values of the tones. 

On the other hand, we have learned to appreciate the meticulous and precise representation of the detail that our modern anastigmatic devices give us, and it seems to us to be one of the most specific creation procedures in photography. Photography has discovered the unknown world of things seen up close, giving us for the first time a sensation of structure with an intensity that the eye, limited by accommodation, was almost completely unaware of until then. Objects isolated in this way from nature, with anastigmatic accuracy, acquire a transobjective importance that goes beyond their function as a simple reality to be represented, and as elements with their own meaning, they speak to us with a language that concerns us. directly, without intermediaries, an insistent and expressive language. The fixation on this “expression of nature” (Franz Roh) has become one of the most beautiful and at the same time most specific tasks of modern photography.

4. The transposition of natural color to the scale of black-and-white photographic values offers us an additional means of creation. This abstraction, through the transformation of natural pigments into a scale of tones similar to that of the drawing, is parallel to the reduction of light values in photography. While our eye admits a growth in its receptivity with respect to light, which can reach 8,400 times the initial sensitivity, and for this reason, it is capable of distinguishing in nature a large number of corresponding light intensities, the tone scale in the image photographic is reduced to a minimum total of more or less 1:30. Originally only insufficiency of the light image was seen in this; Modern photography, on the contrary, has recognized that this reduction in the value of tones is its own and specific means of creation, which can be enhanced not only with normal graduation but also by deliberately accentuating contrasts. Photographic procedures of manipulation also allow natural impressions to be surpassed by the variation and change of tones and therefore represent essential elements of photographic creation. In the negative, thanks to the inversion of black in white and white in black, the trivial naturalism of photography is overcome and a new world of optical experiences of a lively and in a certain way graphic charm is built. In the face of negative proof, solarization, with the changes in tone that it entails, freer and more liberated from the laws, accentuates the contours, brings the planes closer together and surpasses the natural impression in a kind of dreamlike surrealism. Similar effects are obtained with the bas-relief procedure, in which the negative and the slide are enlarged with a slight displacement from each other. In these techniques lies the living force of experience, and its most beautiful solutions are of vital force and significance. Just like experience, which in the hands of laymen is denatured to the point of becoming something childish, in the same way, these printing procedures lead to mediocre works of dilettantes when they are used by people incapable of creating, even if they master the technique. . 

In the future, along with the transposition of photographic tones of black and white, we must also consider as a creative element the changes of natural impressions in the scale of the tones of colour photography. Being the most recent branch of light-imaging, colour photography still strives to achieve technical perfection and fights to be recognized as an objective procedure for obtaining images. In this field, the most problematic task will be to transcend the contradiction that exists between the physicochemical record of the colour photographic emulsion and the psycho-optical vision of the eye. From the point of view of artistic creation, colour photography has developed little, but I for Tomorrow’s Pioneers opens a wide field for discussions and innovative experiences.

5. With the snapshot, photography has a unique means of expression, thanks to the technical possibility of exactly isolating the theme of the temporality of nature. For entire decades, photography has been intoxicated with its successes in the field of snapshots, which in our time has at least provisionally reached its climax: the thousandth of a second of the curtain shutter has been surpassed by the electronic flash. With the ten-thousandth of a second, the excessively slow human eye discovers, thanks to photography, the cut-out of the phases of movement and sees a hitherto unknown world opening up. After movement appeared as if crystallized in the photograph, Auguste Rodin was remembered, who said that movement was the passage from one position to another. If we manage to give the sensation of a movement that develops for several moments, our image is much more charged with dynamism, much more alive than the snapshot in which it seems to stop abruptly. The photographic moment does not correspond at all to the glance with which we see the movement in progress. To give the illusion of movement we use, again, long shutters. In addition to the problem of representing movement, time also interests us as a new dimension. The development of time, that is, the reality included between moments, acquires the character of a theme with its own value. 

The purpose of all modern science is the search for the fundamental elements: the atom, the electron, the proton, etc. If figurative art has been regenerated through form and pure colour, in the same way, photography, if it aims to be Something more than a simple copy of nature, must remember its elementary means of creation, in order to find in them a specific photographic form of expression adapted to the time. 

Knowledge of the writing technique allows for results of different value regarding written production, from the hasty news to the complete literary work; In the same way, knowledge of photographic technique takes us to different stages of its realization in the field of photographic creation. Taking into account the most active factors on the technical and subjective level, we propose the following scheme: 

1. The photographic image that tends towards reproduction. 

2. The photographic image that tends towards representation. 

3. Photographic creation that tends towards representation. 

4. Absolute photographic creation. 

1. Photography treated in an elemental and mechanical way leads to the photographic copy that tends to reproduce, in other words, in the optical record through photochemical procedures; In this way, for example, the amateur’s usual photo memory is born, based on sufficient technical knowledge on his part. All varieties of pure and simple utilitarian photographs, documentary photographs and objective reports fall within the field of copying reproduction in the positive sense. The importance of photography in the service of technology and science is today indisputable, and its application, is so universal that it is clear that it must be studied separately. Everywhere we find photography in the guise of artisanal work and exact manual execution. In this field, we mistakenly speak of objective photography, in which the copy pretends to be objective and always remains an inaccessible ideal: this is intended to designate a copy of reality that is as unclouded as possible by a subjective interpretation; perhaps designating this as neutral futurography best corresponds to this concern. 

2. On the path that leads from copy to representation, man already takes the position of mediator. In the photographic copy that tends towards representation, we already feel the personal vision of the photographer and his representation of the subject; but the photograph always remains, and this is the essential thing, at the service of the object to be represented, which is now called the motif. The beauty or interest of the motif is at the basis of the need to make a representative photographic copy. In its best results, this artistic photography shows us the expansion of the limits of the representation and experience of nature, within a personal vision and within a specific technique. 

3. “Representation, if done from an original point of view, tends towards creation” (Moholy-Nagy). The important step that leads from the representative copy to the photographic creation that tends towards representation is taken when the object, the motif, is no longer taken for its own value, but is brought from a situation in which it had its own value. to another in which it becomes the object of a creative intention. From the productive transformation and the substitution of the simple photographic representation of the object, the image of the concept that man has of that object and of his relations with himself is born. Here the border is clearly perceived concerning utilitarian photography, whose main purpose will always be the objectification of the subject, tending to a determined and impartial end. 

4. Representative creation transposes the natural object according to the demands of the image, but maintains the form: on the contrary, absolute photographic creation in its freest aspect renounces any reproduction of reality; Either he dematerializes the object through photographic variation procedures or he transforms its vision into something so abstract that it simply becomes a formal element. a stone in the work of composition. In the photogram and the luminogram, light, the free and sovereign creator of images, gives rise to significant optical works, which, in their clear dynamic nature, rhythms and interpenetrations, offer almost unlimited possibilities. By bringing together isolated cutouts from nature, photomontage (montage made by simultaneously enlarging several negatives and editing by cropping) finally builds a new iconic world full of tensions in which time and space have become unreal. 

As a result of valid and constructive experiences of vision and form, as well as productive transposition, representative and absolute photographic creation, in our definition, Subjective Photography acquires a material of images that cannot be catalogued within the schemes of the usual photographic conception. The defence of rigid formal principles with content that is foreign to any effectiveness could give Subjektive Fotografie the appearance of an overly rational conception. Photography is too technical a method of creating images to allow for a conception that is only linked to sensitivity. The optical experience of the eye is linked by the force of things, even if this only operates in the unconscious, to the knowledge of photographic technology. The production of the image always develops in the realm of consciousness, but the degree of consciousness depends on the organization of the photographer’s personality. If the sentimental or realistic aspect is more accentuated in the preparation of the photograph, this does not depend in any case on the discriminating intellect, but on a decision adopted by creative emotion and stylistic genius. It is the quality of the creative act that ultimately determines the constitution of the photograph as an image.