Throughout global history, the ability to represent a singular moment in time has laid in the hands of an elite few. Paint pigments were costly before acrylics were invented in the mid-20th century; artists often mixed the chemicals themselves. Leonardo Da Vinci would use one piece of paper until there was no room left on either side because it was such a precious material. Nowadays, we live in an age where everybody we know has access to a camera in some form, be it an actual camera or perhaps on a phone, tablet or computer. As a result, there is a huge margin of amateur artists of all mediums flooding social media.
Photographers who depend on the medium as their livelihood may be shocked by the recent case of a man who staged a photo for a photography competition and came in first place. His photo was one of many identical photos, all taken on a tour through Vietnam; the portrait of a mother and her children secured him $120k in prize money.
The photo looks dramatic and tragic, caught spontaneously during another hard day for this mother with a speaking disorder. The truth is that a flock of amateur photographers, with their expensive equipment, crowded around her and captured the same subject. Depending on how cynical you are, this context can change the way you look at the picture. Personally, I didn’t have particularly strong positive or negative feelings for the photo before or after I knew the truth. In fact, I think we would be shocked to find out the surprisingly mundane methods and origins behind the most famous pieces of art. I know when I create a piece of art, it usually entails a few hours of me hunched over a canvas.
“To see someone who does not see is the best way to be intensely aware of what he does not see.”–Roland Barthes, Mythologies
The truth about most media is that the process of judging them is largely subjective. Even Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, a technically and dramatically awful film, has a huge cult following. In this day-and-age, it doesn’t matter if we mix our own paints or not– as long as the audience likes the outcome.
How does knowing the story behind a piece of art affect how you view it? Comment below!