the photographer, the artist, philosophy, ambiguation and you


Inspirational Malaysian photographer Ming Thein recently wrote a two part series called, The Photographer as philosopher. Here’s part one and part two.

One of the things that inspired me to write a sort of response to Thein’s blog was this line (emphasis mine):

One of the things I’ve always believed (and openly stuck by) is that photography is art, and art is subjective; there are no absolute rights and wrongs. Here we draw the first parallel with philosophy: it isn’t science precisely because there’s no real right or wrong; heck, defining right and wrong is a topic unto itself. The real point is that both are interpretative, and biased by the point of view of the interpreter. The photographer captures – or tries to capture – what he sees, with the ultimate aim of conveying a certain image to the end viewer.


I’m not sure how much of a philosopher I am, but I interpret what Thein is writing as an extension of what I’ve written about before about how becoming a photographer and artist encouraged me to eschew my religious background, because the Christian faith and religion prevented me — still does to some degree — from becoming the artist I want to become.

It breaks down to this: artistry falls into a gray area of morality, nothing is right and wrong, objectivity vs subjectivity. To be the best artist I can be requires a loosening of absolutes, something incompatible with how I was raised. Evangelical Christianity imposes that there are absolutes, when we all know, Christians included, there are not. There are no rights and wrongs, not completely.

Even as a non-believer, I see a lot of rights in Christianity. I also see a lot of wrongs. The same for any religion. The ability to see the rights and wrongs in various worldviews is a blessing and curse.

I write that my religious background still prevents me, because a lot the disciplines I was taught echo so loudly that it’s difficult to turn down that volume. Retiring belief’s strong grip on my daily life is still a struggle.

I have to work hard to see through the nagging antagonism of self-doubt, worry, inappropriate torment that religious convictions taught me about sex, truth, life, people, the planet and the universe.

For instance, I recently added a topless female nude to our portfolio. Scroll down to see it.

But to justify having a female nude, I added a topless shot of a male above her.

Adding the female was hard. The male easy. Why? Because seeing a man with his top off is somehow acceptable in our culture. And female nipples are dirty.

At least, that’s how many people raise children in the modern Christian environment.

Posting that photo of a topless woman was a hurdle that I had to leap over. Hell, editing the photo for hours and hours over the course of several weeks was a hurdle. I can’t tell you how many times Tina walked by and saw me working on the image. I would freeze up a little.

I mean, holy hell, there was a practically naked model on my screen. I was painting around the pelvis area for a few days to get it right. Or what I wanted.

This pressure never came from Tina. Tina loved the image and never put any guilt on me to put it away or stop spending too much time on it.

Commercial photography is — at its core — lying.

Hell, Thein brings up how photography decieves, because we want it to. Nobody wants wedding photography to show a dismal day. They want it to convey happiness, beauty and fun.

No company wants their products to show deficiencies.

We’re working with a company right now to develop a photo that shows how fun the owners are. We’re going to create a sort of fantasy.

Motion picture editing requires the same set of moral ambiguation. My job as an editor is to heighten the attraction of people or products. If you stutter or say um too much, I take that out. I purposely don’t show the shot of the over-weight women shopping for clothing in certain videos, because that would detract from the target audience my clients want.

My job is to portray a heightened reality.

I have to pinch myself and ask, “Does that mean I have a deceitful relationship with Tina?” And I find that it’s the opposite. For a long time, I lied to Tina about my world. I didn’t feel I could tell her the truth about my feelings, my proclivities, my fantasies, or my desires.

Our relationship is wide open. She can go on my computer, my phone. I have nothing to hide. One, she’s accepting as hell. Two, I’m not religious anymore.

My faith and religion encouraged a certain amount of deceit. And while the 10 commandments said not to lie, admitting weaknesses was the 11th commandment that drove me insane.

But self-expression requires grasping vulnerabilities and throwing them in front of others, which in turn results in a response. Responses are negative and positive. Negativity, while loathsome, encourages improvement and accountability.

Faith encourages stasis.

Art encourages improvement.

I choose art.