John Benton-Harris         On Seeing         John Benton-Harris

Unlike others who claim this visual discipline, I draw on my acquired knowledge and all the broad and diverse experience that comes with it, in partnership with my instinct, wit and visual sensibility to visually articulate my ideas on Life, Society, and Seeing. Added to this, I have an appreciation of art and representation that goes back before photography, to the very beginnings of visual expression. This not only makes looking more complex and challenging, for me but it also makes the result of my efforts less predictable and consequently more rewarding and exciting for everyone else. As a result, my way of seeing is more intelligent, compelling and surprising for the minded viewer. So admittedly, I can admit to being excited, when I go out and about with my camera. Because my camera is an extension of a true and complete self, therefore I never simply illustrate a subject or choose an approach that is required by a second or third party. My view of the world is totally mine, an enhanced reflection of personal opinion that tells all “It is I”, quite unlike that of the voiceless illustrator, who exercises little or no control over selection, juxtaposition and commentary. So unsurprisingly the complete presence in my seeing reads and remains in the mind of the viewer, and giving more than just a snack, but a banquet, in terms of content. Being that I know who I am, and use my camera as more then just a window out on the world, but also a window in on my own thoughts and feelings..

Beyond that what I’ve already stated my early friendships and exposure to relevant opportunities and influences in the New York School, of the middle to late 50’s, and all its regular access to a multitude of definitions for photography, has also worked to accelerate my understanding of this practice. Here however, even after many years of residency, and after expending so much effort and energy as a photographer, teacher, lecturer, and curator, still only a narrow view of photography prevails, that of Professionalism verses Amateurism, the former being all about work, money and obligation to ones employer, and the latter being all about play, free time, and self-indulgence.

 

Photography for me, was not a medium, I came to by default, or one I fell back on when other disciplines failed to entertain, satisfy or reward. I was motivated from the first by love, curiosity and a passion to show and tell, while being further inspired by a respect and admiration for photography’s past achievements. So it would be difficult for me to deny that my imagery is not loaded with reference points visual or otherwise. But that obvious additional blessing is sadly seen by many as a weakness, not an advantage. And this reaction comes mostly from the Art establishment, for they are busy seeking newness. And younger less image wise photographers, who in there hurry for success, also believe more in their uniqueness then photography’s.  So they busy themselves creating a looser, quieter, vaguer, or even more vulgar look, that they can claim as there own. This can be achieve easily by the de-construction of excepted compositional norms, by the incorporation of quirky angles of view, and/or by the use of excessive illumination, all can help to create the illusion of substance, to the mindless eye.

But now the British vocabulary of seeing is being expanded, such quick and simple ways of attempting to give serious weight to shallow seeing, are no longer working. Today ambitious newcomers to photography need to focus their minds as well as their eye, and tell the viewer who they are and what they think, if they want to influence a much more discerning public, to look upon them as more then just stylists. Today’s real artists understand that true style comes out of not worrying about a new way, just responding in a natural way to there own needs. They know true style only comes easily to those who humble themselves while facing life and by working to bring all that they are, know, think, feel, and believe into their commentary. 

 

© Copyright John Benton-Harris October 1999

 

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