Free your vision - trust your imagination

Note: this video may not be viewable in certain countries due to BBC licence restrictions. It will also only be available on the iPlayer for a limited period. A few nights ago I was watching the last episode in the 'Impressionists' series that's been on the BBC iPlayer.

You might wonder what art and impressionism has to do with photography. Well, for me they're almost inseparable. But I'd like to discuss two points that came up in this documentary about the Impressionists:

1) Seurat's colour theory and dot painting.

If you have the three primary colours or red, green and blue as light sources and mix them together, you get white (or as Waldemar Januszczak shows us, you get a mid grey tone on the colour wheel he demonstrates with). But if you're a painter and you mix red, green and blue together, you end up with a durge. Seurat wondered how to convey the luminance of a subject in his painting and figured that if he painted in dots - and put red, green and blue dots side by side, he could trick the mind into thinking about higher luminance values. Of course, he failed in that respect, but I thought it was really interesting, because it's not too far away from how film grains and pixels in sensors are used to convey different colours.

2) Monet's failing Eye Sight.

At the end of the documentary, Waldemar Januszczak takes us to see the large set of panorama's painted by Monet, towards the end of his life. He firstly tells us that by this stage in his life, Monet had cataracts which affected his vision and colour interpretation. He also tells us that as a result, the only possible surgery at the time was to remove the lens in the eye, and for the rest of his life, Monet had to deal with double vision. Waldemar Januszczak makes a remarkable statement that Monet's lack of vision free'd Monet's immagination.

Wow I thought. That is exactly how I feel about using rangefinder cameras. I don't get an exact representation of what the camera is picking up, but instead, I have to visualise the image - I have to use my imagination more. This I feel, allows me to get more involved in the picture making process. I believe it is because It's more me making the image than the camera.

I've often said that many photographers have an over reliance on their equipment. Sure, the right equipment can only help and the wrong equipment can really hamper (I'll be writing more about this with regards to a Hasselblad camera I acquired last year). But ultimately, handing too much of the decision making process to your camera (think autofocus, auto-exposure), means that you're less in control. Having very accurate viewfinders do not help you compose better, they help you lean on the camera, rather than rely on your own judgement. Having systems which you know aren't entirely correct, that are approximations can really force you to take more control and be more involved in the picture making process.

So I really understand what Waldemar Januszczak said, when he suggests that Monet's failing eye sight freed his imagination.