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Photographing is not Playing


Thierry Maindrault’s Monthly Chronicle

We have all already heard this somewhat annoying remark: “Huffing is not a real move” delivered, with a touch of contempt, by inveterate players to their opponents who are not so strong. This unpleasant and above all disruptive remark in front of a chess board or a card carpet clearly marks a boundary in the hierarchy of knowledge.

This knowledge, which is measured by the quantity of information inside a brain and in particular by the capacity of an individual to technically, sensorially and intellectually to use said archived information. For this stock of memory, the purpose is summed up in the ability to transmit – before their perdition -, to associate – for their valorization – and to create – for their evolution -, according to the means specific to each person. The difficulty arises with the obligatory passage, in all areas of activity, of rules which are part of universal obligations. The rules of the game defined by Man and written by History according to natural, technological and societal developments.

Photography does not escape this observation, neither in its concept, nor in its procedures, and even less in its use. Photography, even if it remains a game, in every sense of the word for some, remains a serious business. Everyone can use this exceptional tool, more or less sophisticated; but not everyone masters its use.

In all circumstances, creating an image with photography requires a body of knowledge that is as varied as it is full. The photographer, about competence, must have a very complete background both in terms of his intellectual assets and that of implementing very concrete techniques.

Our predecessors for a century, until the middle of the twentieth century, perfectly combined this multitude of talents. Engineers, carpenters, chemists, physicists, decorators, surveyors, electricians, they mastered all of these skills to freeze an ephemeral ray of light on a strong and durable support. This side of know how is for technical achievement. The list is already full; but that is not finished. Inventors, psychologists, observers, curious people, physiognomists, composers, aesthetes, they also possessed a range of skills to restore an often banal subject in faithful and moving artwork. These aspects of design are for creation that has become artistic.

Our ancestors of photography, even mocked by people (from the photographic black veil on the head to the little bird flying out to the inverted frosted glass), were path openers like our astronauts today. Unfortunately, the current disarray is explained by a speed feeling of time – everything is too long -, the reluctance of work – impatience with repetitive gestures -, intellectual weakening – the machine will do it for you -, to the detriment of this sensual complexity of the authors.

A little over a century of dense and harmonious images, even from less inspired photographers (the principle of the union minimum). Then, the technological race and the specialization of skills (frequently synonymous with degeneration of the wealth of knowledge and thought) lead photography and photographers into the ravine. For now, it looks a lot like a race to the bottom; but let us be optimistic and dream of an innovative ray emerging from this abyss to allow our successors to make the universality of photographic knowledge shine again.

It is through deadly specializations, pitiful transfers of noble tasks, and technical snobbery that we have arrived at these submerged generations by non-photographers. The total technological ignorance of how photographic procedure works, what it can be used for and why bother to read the manual (which leads to their deletion), generates swarms of stupid (everyone imagines themselves capable, without learning anything) owners of the latest overpriced equipment. All of us met the lady who is looking for the button to take the “photo” or the gentleman who would like to know what this or that button can be used for. I won’t overly burden you by those who are drowned in computer programming (often very abstruse) with their latest photographic “Rolls-Royce”. As my friend Brassens sang so well: “…the time is for nothing…”, what’s more, it’s not a question of age, it is the same thing for all. Of course, as always, there are a few exceptions in these tides of false geniuses of picture, as tasteless as they are useless. These survivors will recognize themselves (I hope!) and obviously will not hold these harsh remarks against me.

Not losing my track, the game becomes that of a circus that is hardly bearable when photography becomes a pretext for existence generated solely by its own superficial envelope. Two or three clever people installed a camera in everything and anything. Why not ? These are so-called utility tools, just like the potato masher or the vegetable peeler. These findings take work away from many photography professionals, but it makes work much easier for many other professionals. I still note, in passing, that these “go fast” type images are significantly less rich in useful information than the shots of a competent photographer. The aberration reaches heights with the misappropriation of these accessories to turn them into lifestyles pictures and to impose one’s ego on this or that so-called social community. You know what I mean : the curve of my breast under my shower, my spoon of breakfast cereal, the breakdown of the coffee machine … in my work place (Oh! What a horror!), the Valentine’s Day hamburger with my lover, etc. I forget the best, often more daring. Finally, not only they dare, but they send,  immediately, to the four corners of the world what they think is, each time, an ultimate, and immortal human work. There are more and more of them around us, all things considered, let’s be frank, we are fewer and fewer of us among them.

The game ends, the game stops. Photography is a wonderful object of investigation, a message tool, a light trap; no, it’s not a game. Don’t twist what I say, I never suggested that a photographer shouldn’t or couldn’t be a gamer. Because of all the photographers I know, so-called great or described as small, always wrongly in both these judgments, very few take themselves seriously. Their nod is for the beginning or the end of the Game.

Thierry Maindrault, March 08, 2024

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