Amy Stein: Sometimes people are downright angry when they learn my Domesticated photos are staged. Do you feel any push back from people when they discover your images are constructed? Why do you think people have such a hard time allowing for the personal vision and imagination of a photographer compared to a painter, musician, or writer?
Graham Miller: I've not got the downright angry reaction...more like a kind of knowing, dismissive, sigh. I guess the reason people have such a hard time with the constructed image is that for them it somehow feels like cheating. They still believe that because the photograph so closely resembles reality that somehow it must also be "true". For me photography is much like writing -in the sense that you can approach writing about a subject or photographing it as fiction or nonfiction. Both are equally valid, and both speak of the human experience in a moving and profound way. It does puzzle me when people go on about it. It just doesn't feel the right approach for me to work in a traditional photojournalistic sense.
First of all, I think everyone is free to shoot in whatever style they see fit.
That said, I tend to find found images more interesting than staged ones and here's why. When I see an image, I am immediately curious about how that image was made. What were the circumstances of its exposure? What was happening at the scene? Most importantly, WHY did the photographer find that scene interesting and compose it in that way? If the image is a found one, all of these questions seem very dynamic. I get to imagine I'm in the photographer's shoes. I get to try to see how they saw. This is some of what I've been trying to get at with my What Was He Thinking? series, to see how different people identify photographic moments and separate them out from regular life.
With staged images, all of those circumstances are basically inside the photographer's head. There's nothing to separate out, no moment to identify. I'm basically relying on the photographer to dig around in his/her brain and then let me know somehow what was happening in there, the same way painters, musicians, and writers do. I have no problem with any of those arts but I generally don't find them as interesting as photography because photography has a relationship with reality that, to me at least, seems unique among the arts.
For me half the power of a photograph like this
comes from wondering how he found it. When I learn it was constructed instead of found, I guess I become one of the dismissive sighers. I admit I had the same reaction when I realized Stein's Domesticated series was staged. I'd prefer her Stranded stuff or her Halloween portraits any day.
Then there's the fun factor. I think finding photographs is downright fun. The "Aha!" moment when a photograph comes together and you snatch an image out of reality like a rabbit from a hat, that is a buzz. Honestly it is the reason I photograph. Is constructing photographs fun? Maybe it is for some people. To see an image through from idea to final print is probably very satisfying. But not for me. It seems less "Aha!" than a series of menial steps toward illustration Again, that's just me.
Miller compares photography to writing, with its division of fiction vs. nonfiction. I have to say that even by that standard I am the same. Although I am serious bookworm, I haven't read a novel in years. I like nonfiction. I prefer documentary movies. I admit I have strange tastes but I can't do anything about that. The truth of them is stranger than anything I could invent.