Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Perfect Imperfections

Brother & Sister Sliding - Stallion Springs, California
In photography we often strive for perfection. We want the sharpest lenses, the best sensors that provide the largest dynamic range and cleanest high ISOs. We want everything to be just right. Flawless. Perfect.

But what if flaws are good? What if perfection is a hinderance to greatness? What if art is found in brokenness?

There is the endless debate about which is better: film or digital? Most photographers have come to the conclusion that digital is superior in practically every way. But many film users will point out that film has a charm that digital is missing. Film has character, often found in it's imperfections.

It's pretty common and easy to replicate the charm of film in digital photography using software. I do this regularly. But the question is why. Why do I purposefully put imperfections in my otherwise clean digital images?
Summer Country Feeling - Stallion Springs, California
There are film photographers who purposefully damage their film. They add scratches. They purposefully allow dust to gather on the film. They modify their cameras so that there will be small light leaks. They'll put their film through different chemicals to give different effects. They desperately want flaws.

These photographers will tell you that perfect photographs contain imperfections. The world is a broken place and so brokenness should be found in our art. It's what gives life color and character. Flawless photographs are boring photographs.

Look at that great landscape scene you are photographing. It was created through a harsh and unforgiving nature. Wind and rain. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Floods and droughts all shape the land over many years. The beauty that's in front of you was made possible by rugged weather and disasters.

People are shaped similarly. We become who we are by way of heartbreaks and disappointments and failures, as well as love and learning and successes. Life experiences. Constantly by daily life we are being transformed little by little into the person we'll become tomorrow.
A Football Dream - Stallion Springs, California
It's imperfections that shape nature and mankind. It's ingrained into us deeply. Perhaps that is why we respond more strongly to something that's flawed than something that is flawless. We can relate to and understand more profoundly things which are imperfect.

I heard a song this morning by Jars of Clay that inspired me to write this post. Let me share with you some of the lyrics.

The storm is wild enough for sailing
The bridge is weak enough to cross
This body frail enough for fighting
I'm home enough to know I'm lost
The land unfit enough for planting
Barren enough to conceive
Poor enough to gain the treasure
Enough a cynic to believe
Confused enough to know direction
The sun eclipsed enough to shine
Be still enough to finally tremble
And see enough to know I'm blind

Far more important than creating a flawless photograph is conveying a thought to the viewer through your photograph. You want the viewer to feel the emotion, which means that they must be able to relate in some way to the image--the more profoundly they can relate the more successful the photograph. It's not a perfect image that the world wants to see, but perfect imperfections. Brokenness. Flaws. Dirty. Real life. That's what makes a photograph good.

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