Intention - Anthony Mak

I take after my grandfather who was an early adopter of photography in the early 20th century. With the same pioneering spirit, I experiment by combining old lenses with the latest modern camera sensors to create images with a different character from other photographers. But, my reason for using old lenses from the 60s to the 90s runs deeper than aesthetics - it is also about INTENTION, which is at the heart of my definition of art.

Take a scene in nature: it may be beautiful, but it's not art, because there is no intention or workmanship behind it. However, when an artist steps into the scene, he or she makes decisions about its presentation (composition) and this intention turns a beautiful scene into a work of art, when combined with skilful workmanship in its production. With painting, workmanship is the skill/intention with brush and paint to execute a vision. With photography, workmanship is the skill/intention to achieve appropriate exposure; correct focus and depth; amongst other things to realise a vision. Thus, art in my opinion, cannot be achieved without vision, intention and skill - these form the basis on which composition and subject matter build.  

I therefore stand in antithesis to the artistic ideals espoused by Marcel Duchamp as epitomised in his work “Fountain” (1917), with which he tried to decouple art from its production, and the artist's skill and intention. In Duchamp’s opinion, if an artist considers any object to be art, then it is art, regardless of whether it was intended as art or even if is mass produced.  

So what do old lenses have to do with INTENTION?

Well, old lenses have no electronics and therefore offer no creature comforts, such as: autofocus, auto-aperture and image stabilisation. This means every photo must be manually set with careful attention to detail, which makes me more engaged in the process, which in turn creates photos rich with INTENTION.

To appreciate the difference, consider how photographers shooting with fully automatic cameras tend to be led by the technology. When they point their cameras at a subject, the camera decides where the focus point is. The photographer just frames the shot and pushes the button - he or she is effectively a point-and-shoot photographer and INTENTION is robbed from the image. This loss of skill and intention makes it more like mass manufactured art, because it has lost its element of workmanship. It's artistic merit rests entirely on subject and composition, but it can no longer be considered a "work" of art, because it lacks the artist's "work" and skill essential to its production.

Without this technological crutch, I am each time forced to decide which part of the subject I wants in focus and what aperture to use. I must "work" for my art with skill and precision. Thus, my photographs contain artistic merit both, from my choice of subject/composition, and the old-fashioned workmanship I put into the image from my skill in manually operating the lens and camera.

In short, my INTENTION and SKILL are ever present in every shot I take, and in every print purchased by my clients, in the grand tradition of photography as art, but updated to a digital format.

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