PHOTOOG Photography writings by Olivier Giroux

22Oct/083

Photograph like an engineer.

Analytical Solutions

I first studied mechanical engineering at a school that prides itself in being the deepest into theory out of four major universities that serve the Montreal area. Most of the time I spent on the school bench was devoted to the quest for the holy grail of engineering that is the analytical solution. As I look back, I think engineering scholars suffer from a “physicist complex”, in that deep down they wished they really were physicists and not engineers. Professional engineers get little kick out of playing pretend-physicist.

Numerical solutions are easier to get, sufficient for most of all purposes, and you could teach juniors how to set them up for a vast space of problems. Comparatively few people can set up theoretical arguments with sufficient modeling to come out with more useful precision in the end. Yet the analytical solution remains a source of pride for its author, even when he/she is aware of this.

Why? First, the analytical solution is an achievement that lifts the author above the ordinary. It’s a statement about his or her discipline and sustained concentration. Second, the analytical solution presents itself untainted by crude errors borne in the physical world. The solution’s limits were agreed upon from the outset by the stated simplifying assumptions and thereafter the solution is presumed to be free from error.

Thus the analytical solution is perceived to be more worthwhile, even when it is more painful and/or less useful.

Analytical Photography

Ack! What a blood-curling term we have here. Photography is art!

I don’t know what percentage of the population is made up of art historians, but I don’t think my family is a good barometer for popular interest. Within one degree of separation I count two art historians, yet within even two degrees I am the only engineer that I’m aware of. I mention this cultural bias to prepare you for what I’m going to say next.

Analytical art is not an oxymoron. There were periods in history, particularly during the renaissance, where artists were obsessed with technical minutia, for example harmonics, perspective and human proportions. They have argued about color for thousands of years. Recently (in terms of history) so-called “method” actors formalized the simulation of emotion even, to the delight of millions. Basically, analysis comes into play when art is concerned with depicting something real.

Most art today is not intended to promote analysis of its expression, however, and here is the defense of contemporary art. Displays of art now invite analysis of a hidden message instead. Nevertheless, many aspects of contemporary art involve advanced techniques and technology which must be mastered to make the art appealing and draw the audience to the message. This definitely applies to photography.

Analytical photography, I define now, is meticulous technical photography that would not be considered art today. In the current context, that means photography that has no message or doesn’t fit in a coherent body of work with an overarching message.

Engineer Photographers

There is a deepening interest in analytical photography today. Dozens of discussion forums filled with analytical content, huge vaults of perfect generic images, and a vocal community hungry for technical prowess are evidence of this in my opinion. This community includes professionals and amateurs alike, and for all the effort they pour into photographic analyses there are very few in it that produce artistically meaningful work.

I am part of this community. I do not produce artistically meaningful work.

At this stage I see myself as an “engineer photographer” and I mean it derogatively: a photographer in search of the analytical solution. This is a sort of manifesto for the moment.

My wish is to grow past this stage.


Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Comment from email…

    Most art is produced to communicate, to/of oneself and/or to others.

    A consequence is that the receptor (as soon as the art is produced, the creator is also one of the receptors) will either chose to receive the stimulus without analysing further than the mere qualification of a sensation as being pleasant or unpleasant. But the receptor can also chose to explore and analyze the message (form, style, iconography and content), the emotions triggered by this message and the emotions that were its genesis.

  2. Nicely worded. Haven’t quite decided if it’s in support or not of my original statements. I suppose the expression is part of the message is what you’re adding.

  3. Comment from email…

    Because the expression is part of the message the artist usually cannot control the amount of analysis conducted by the receptor.

    It is possible to survey and influence the depth and the amount of analysis of contemporary art because it is happening at the same time as the art is produced; it is, by definition, contemporary. Artists give interviews, collaborate (or not) with critics and art historians. Their more or less turbulent lifestyles feed the need for analysis and in some instances are the only source of questioning.

    But is the real question you are asking not about artists but about “Masters” as producers of “Masterpieces” ? Then we go back to the philosophical definition of “beauty”.

    Very interesting


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