Artistic Direction - Anthony Mak

When on commission, I aim to get the job done, even if my client requires extreme digital manipulation.  But for my own artworks, I abide by a strict code of photographic integrity, as explained below.

My photography is informed by three pillars: (a) the relationship between art and INTENTION, (b) the relationship between the skill of an artist and the production of his/her creation; and (c) authenticity. Before I explain how these three ideals inform my art, I need to explain why I think INTENTION is at the heart of the definition of art.

You can read about my thoughts on that here.

My three pillars address a problem with modern high-tech photography, which is its aggressive focus on using technology and automation to ensure always getting the shot.   This is fine for photographers who must absolutely capture unique moments in time for a client, but it detracts from the art and craft of photography. It is like buying a machine made ceramic pot from Bernard Leach rather than one made with his own hands.  The two might look the same, but we all know which one we would value most.  To feel the grooves in the clay created by his fingers or that of a 1000 year old pot is to provide a direct connection with the artist/craftsman that cannot be conveyed by machine. Moreover, much can be learned from the Japanese acceptance and appreciation of the imperfection in art (wabi-sabi) - fine art photographs do not need to be perfect and the imperfections from human agency make them more real.  Indeed, history shows that the pursuit of perfection in art has always been a dead-end.

Technology obviates the elements of intention and skill from the artist in two ways, thereby undermining the authenticity and connection of the artist with his/her art:

1. It puts compositional elements of photography in the hands of software algorithms (autofocus, aperture priority, shutter priority), thereby decreasing the intention and skill of the photographer.

2. It removes the element of skill from the tradition of photography involving focusing and keeping the camera steady.

The three pillars inform my photography in the following ways:

Firstly, I prefer to use old film lenses on digital sensors, because the lack of autofocus and aperture priority forces me to make decisions that would otherwise be made by the camera and rob the photo of INTENTION. I feel that those decisions should be made by the artist, because they affect composition. Additionally, the ability to manually take a shot are skills that have defined photographers since the inception of the camera. Thus, I see myself as belonging to a time-honoured tradition that todays high-technology driven photography is diverging from.

Secondly, these lenses produce a different aesthetic character to modern lenses, which would otherwise require software to replicate, but that would reduce the photograph’s authenticity.

Thirdly, when editing photographs authenticity is still important to me.  The boundary between photography and digital creative art is blurred.  It's gradually becoming more acceptable to digitally manipulate images, for instance, replacing skies, removing objects, or adding new content to an image.  

My take on this is quite simple.  I want to be known for great photographic skills and not great digital creative skills.  This means I will generally stick to the editing techniques used by film photographers of old with exceptions listed below.

At the heart of my photographic integrity is the drive for authenticity as defined by the use of real light (whether natural or flash) and not to digitally create light in postproduction.  That's not to say I won't manipulate the light already captured by making it darker or lighter, but adding light that's not there is not photography - it's the domain of a digital creative.  Thus, I prefer not to digitally blur images - any blurring, must be made with real light passing through a real lens, or intentionally shaking the camera.

This means in my portfolio, I will:

- NOT add new content eg. placement of new objects, animals, or people, including not replacing skies.

- remove distracting objects (in the same way artists leave them out of their paintings), because my photographs are not literal, they're not meant as photojournalistic images to capture reality as is, but instead they are meant as an interpretation of reality - they are works of fine art.

- change the colours of items within a scene, eg small objects or items in the background that might otherwise distract, but I would not alter the main subject.

- use High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography to achieve a more perfect exposure of what they human eye sees.  The eye can see as much as 24 f-stops of light, but a camera can only capture around 10-14 f-stops of light. By using HDR, I more faithfully represent what I saw, by providing more visible detail in the highlights and shadows when there is high contrast lighting.

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