The Art of Making Photographs

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How many times does it take to make art?

We like to think of our art as spontaneous. Movies about writers either show them angst-ridden and wondering what to write, or pouring golden words out of their fingertips. Musicians find inspiration in late-night parties and members of the opposite sex. Photographers? Well, no one tells stories about photographers, because we’re all photographers in the 21st century. We’re all carrying around our equipment in our right front pockets and can download an app to make our photos even more artsy. (It’s pixilated! It’s in black and white! It’s a fish-eye lens!)

Only, we can’t. We’re only fooling ourselves and our doting mothers when we think the latest shot on our iPhone or even SLR camera is worthy of National Geographic. Art, for the photographer, does not mean snapping a photo when standing on a desk (wow—a new angle, or it would be if Dead Poets Society never happened); it means struggling to find the right composition, the perfect light; it means publishing the eight photos out of 25,000 that tell a story. And coincidentally, there is a story behind such photos.

As Picasso said, “Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.” What are the stories behind the great art of our time? A man revisits the frozen plains of Alberta for one chance at a timeless shot. A woman rewrites a scene for the 20th time (Hollywood leaves out the re-writes: all writing in Hollywood is perfect if you’ve smoked enough cigarettes while staring off into the distance). Perhaps great art cannot come about without a great story behind it, of someone working, working for that unfolding of time—whether in writing or film or music or whatever it may be—that makes us draw a breath and wonder again at the world.