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The Photographic Knowledge


Thierry Maindrault’s Monthly Chronicle

After sixty years of proximity and distance with photography, what I know very well is that I know nothing. This is perfect considering the big number of people of all ages that I meet and who know everything. You have surely noticed, like me, that each time you enter an exhibition or a gallery, the author, if he is present, feels obliged to explain to us  in detail how he technically made the artwork of the century, even of the millennium. This type of monologue becomes juicy when the gallery manager himself or the artistic mediator of the exhibition, both completely ignorant, present to you in details the inventiveness of the cherub who makes us the alms of his know-how.

Photography, this set of fabulous techniques that trap light, must be learned. I will go straight to the point, there are only two ways to get as much knowledge as possible to match our own ambitions. The first is to pass throw the hands of indisputable masters. I am not speaking the great names (withAnglo-Saxon names) that are pouring forth in all kinds of seminars, who are very rarely excellent technicians and very often sad pedagogues. The second consists in being self-taught and immersing oneself, body and soul, in the abundant literature which, for two centuries now (for chemical and physical techniques) and at least ten thousand years (for graphic and technical construction), offer us the keys to real artworks and the production of technically acceptable works. It is obvious that the two paths will intersect, rub shoulders, intertwine, sublimate each other to extract the useful and essential for our imaginative development. It should be noted that for many real photographers, the grateful exchanges between colleagues were almost inexhaustible sources, except for the few somewhat misanthropic loners

What a wonderful tool is  photography . Seemingly so simple; but, in reality, much more complicated than holding a brush, even if you make your colours and supports, by yourself.

So will you ask me, where does this current catastrophic indigence, both creative and technical, come from? This is true for too many images (now each hamlet of a few inhabitants, produces one, or more, exhibitions in the village hall or in the town hall) that are offered to the sagacity of the public.

To reverse the priorities, I will start with the autodidacts. Because in this case, the problem is the easiest. It is said that young pretenders to knowledge no longer know how to read on leaving higher education, which I have been able to verify, and moreover they do not have any time to read. The knowledge is therefore for the artificial intelligence of a camera and for the screen of a smartphone to solve every problem. After, you send a file by internet to the laboratory, if possible the cheapest, the trick is done. No one will dare tell you that the photographs are terrible? For a long time now we cannot psychologically offend the authors of notorious incompetence.

On the teaching side, It is a disaster. The number of professors is however important throughout the world with a number of schools, universities and other educational offices which have been multiplied by ten in less than a quarter of a century. If there are schools, there are the teachers whose technical skills no one checks anymore (I assure you, it is the same thing in a multitude of professions). Given the needs of all these profitable training companies, we no longer find experts as there used to be. It is not really my type; but, I will try to be indulgent with all these people to whom we entrust the mission of training our image elites. It is clear that even the best of promotions (the cream of photographs, those who leave school with a sponsored contract and a name covered with medals), with whom I have some exchanges, are dry on the fundamentals of the multitudes of techniques that govern photography. They are all equally arid concerning the fundamental constancy of perception in the human being, who will question himself in front of one of their works.

It has been a long time since teachers left questioning their own intrinsic personal skills to focus on teaching ideas. We no longer learn the role of a diaphragm any more than that of a focal length, we no longer explain the manipulation of a grain of silver any more than the interaction of two pixels, we no longer record the cultural foundation of perception no more than the comparative impact of a colorimetric wave. Why all these stupid questions when the intelligence of the camera takes care of it as long as you put an exorbitant price on it. This does not prevent us from being overwhelmed with disastrous images from these photographic “Roll Royces”.

Our teaching teams are incapable of lavishing a minimum of physics, art history or elementary morphology. So they propagate revealed truths about what creation should be, creative dogmas for their followers, smoky theories of the moment (as if creative theories made sense for a living, non-artificial intelligence). They insist with their fashions to please (too bad they change every two/three years in our current communication systems).

In principle, the content of the technique abdicates in favour of the form of the idea. An entire program ! The planet is changing its direction of rotation and no one has told us!

Nostalgia is not my forte, and we have to move forward resolutely. But, they were not bad our teachers with precious knowledge who shared it with us with this pedagogy of curiosity, which made some of us grateful enthusiasts.

Thierry Maindrault, May 27, 2022

your comments about this chronicle and its photography are always welcome to [email protected]

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