Art Can Happen to All of Us

henri_cartier_bresson011Henri Matisse, by another Henri (Cartier-Bresson)

  Art is a fundamentally undemocratic process. It can be deliberate, raw, tortured, beautiful, cynical, strange, stunning, gorgeous, contradictory, but it is not decided by committee.

  Maybe that’s an old-fashioned view – the world after all is connected now and everything seems designed by a collective or at least that’s the utopian idea behind the society many people wish to see.

  However, art as such is not a part of the collective realm of commerce, economy, society, politics or religion, but a voice and a place that stands – by its very necessity – apart from all that. It is what allows a work of art to comment or reflect on any other of the elements of our existence. It stands at a remove.

  It may be a Utopian remove, a locked ivory tower of the senses and perceptions, or it may be the cold and harsh voice of a hermit or the unconcerned voice of a self-absorbed wanderer, but it is a deeply necessary aspect of life, this remove from the bustle and self-importance.

  It’s a playground of the imagination, but it’s also a hall of sometimes distorting, sometimes deeply truthful mirrors. A necessary mystery, because it allows for quiet and reflection.

  From a very regular and normal point of view it certainly seems superfluous, especially if it doesn’t sell, but that is missing the point completely. It is superfluous, but at the same time it is our own greatest achievement, because it is a reflection of self-awareness and presence, of what we like to call out own humanity.

  Art creates a place where we can reflect on our own actions, as an individual or a species, look for answers and alternatives or simply amuse or scare ourselves by those puzzling mirages that we observe, forgetting that they are ourselves.

  Art is not defined, it happens sometimes and sometimes fails to happen. It can appear for moments in a soap opera or in any circumstance of our lives or it can be there permanently, for a mind open to watch out for it.

  To decide by committee what art is and what not, to imagine that any label would turn something into art or turn something away from being art is a ridiculous notion. To teach somebody what is art and what not is equally ridiculous. To imagine that something is and always remains art, ridiculous.

  But a moment of openness can turn errors into art, mistakes into fantasies, small moments into something meaningful.

  Art, in short, is something that happens to all of us, but is not something that we can get together and nominate to appear.

Suffering and Beauty – on the Ethics of Photography

I often think about the ethics of photography, about the lines that should not be crossed (or if, in rebellion against your own feeling of shame, they should be crossed) and about the dignity of your subject.

My own photographs cannot be said to be very striking or insightful, I think. They are in part superficial, momentary, sometimes beautiful and I hope that I manage to portray the dignity of the people I choose to photograph, and their sense of themselves as well as their joy. I do not photograph intellectually and I do not seek out suffering. If there is anything I choose to photograph, then it is the joy and wonder of travelling, of seeing the world, rather than of thinking about it.

  Photography, respectable photography, seems to be concerned with suffering. How a person goes through agony, madness, disease and ultimately death or how they take on the cruelty of the world, which does not care about them. Because these, or so the images would suggest, are the cornerstones, the irrefutable realities of our existence against which all other things pale and wither.

  Respectable photography, like respectable philosophy, has long dealt with ideas of despair and emptiness, a world devoid of god. It is a strange dogma, this stubborn existentialism, the idea of the purity of hopelessness. I do think that our time demands a more diverse approach, a more open and flexible philosophy, an eye for not only the connectedness of all things but also the contradictory nature of everything.

  Suffering is only a part of the truth, if I may use this heavy word.  The world, in my experience, is never clear. There are hundreds of contradictory emotions and impressions floating around at every moment and if one has clarity it is only the clarity of one’s own emotion. Speaking as a photographer, that certainly makes for effective images but they are rarely truthful.

    There are no pure, undiluted moments. Not even in despair. You have to look for them and keep all the other moments out, because they might change the mood. I am still looking for the photographer who aims to show glimmers of hope in desperate situations or moments of strange, unsuitable, contradictory emotions.  A photograph freezes the moment and makes it eternal. The man in agony is not in momentary but eternal agony. This, I think, is why I would like to see more contradiction. Because it increases the awareness that moments flow and change.

  Having travelled extensively in Asia, I have seen instances of disease, famine, despicable living conditions, depression, gruesome accidents and death. But I would not decide to photograph such moments, unless I would aim to show the human dignity that must be there underneath.

  To me it seems as if there is an accepted image of suffering, a representation of it that will reflect upon the photographer and bring him some sort of twisted glory. Prize winning photographs depict unspeakable horrors because unspeakable horrors, especially if presented artistically and resonantly, sell and find an audience.

  I find there is a danger in this. It creates expectations and desensitizes the audience as well as the image maker – the next reportage must be more shocking. The photographer becomes a seeker of gruesome images, no longer because they are a reflection of the truth, but because they have become the world in which he is successful. It also strips the subject of the image of dignity. The subject becomes an object of pity and a canvas on which one can project many things, one’s own fear of the primitive side of man first among them all.

  But is a beautiful image more truthful? Is beauty truth, as the old adage held? No, of course not, but it is antidote to an ethic and aesthetic of suffering.

  If you want to have a truthful image of Asia or of Africa, look at images taken by Asian and African photographers and try to see through their eyes. Look for photographers who have managed to get rid of their own cultural lenses or have understood them insofar as to make them unimportant.

  Many of the greatest photographers have taken time to develop an understanding of the person or the situation they want to photograph, along with all the contraditions and complexities. It is as simple as that. My own photographs do not even begin to measure up to such a standard, but I think it is a direction worth taking.

Thoughts on Photography

When I think about photography, I think about wanting to make an image seep with emotion or with a particular sense.

It’s not so much about mood, although that plays a part as well, but mood is a surface emotion, something that can be easily manipulated by moving a prop or changing a colour. I’m looking for something that is integral of a person, a landscape or a moment.

A sense is more of an undefined element. The fleeting, ephemeral notions in your or the other person’s head.

It’s not about visual elements – they are a stylistic and therefore very random element, although sometimes they are helpful in order to convey a particular emotion.

It’s strange, perhaps, but I do not think about photography in purely visual terms. It is very much a sensual experience for me.

Clean, clearly defined and well-lit images have their lure, of course, but they are also sterile and lifeless. An artificial emotion pasted onto a face because the photographer wants to convey the image directly from his own head rather than allow it to happen.

A photograph, the kind I’m looking for, is shaped by the world and not by me. It may be frustrating for models, but there is no right image for me. Sometimes an image appears, or an emotion appears that I might find appealing and attractive. That’s what I’m looking for and it’s a question of being attuned rather than being keenly, visually aware.

Of course it is entirely subjective, that is, dependent on my own ideas and perhaps mistakes, but objective photography is advertisement, surface value.

It’s not just beautiful emotions that I want to convey, but rather the enigmatic ones. Moments that have layers and make you want to puzzle them out. To simply say “Smile” means you are not aware what the other person is feeling but only what you are seeing. In order to give meaningful direction you need to be able to understand what sort of image another person holds in their heads as well as the emotion they are bringing to the table. Constant communication is a great help here. Or silence.

There is no wrong expression, no wrong emotion. This goes too much into philosophy, but I’m looking for something that is naturally arising. What this is, that’s as much of a surprise for me as for anyone.

You ought to feel something when looking at an image. This may be the beginning of a thought or the hint of an emotion, a sense of place or a sense of a person. That’s what I’m looking for.



About Me

About Me:Dramatic ID

My name is Sebastian Buchner. I have occasionally called myself a photographer or an artist or whatever you want, but the truth is (which I realize again and again) that I am a storyteller who just happens to work with different media, some visual, some informative, some purely fictional.

I don’t make a living from it, for the most part, although sometimes I buy food and pay bills with money made by photography or words – this makes me very happy and makes me believe that it can and will change. I make my living by travelling, incidentally, and by the occasional class in photography, drawing and visual storytelling. I also talk about my travels, write about them and exhibit photographs. I write lots of fiction as well – and some non-fiction. I take pictures of people and of the stuff I see in my head.

Should you happen to like anything you see here, you are more than welcome to write to me. I will take photographs for you, listen to you if you have something interesting to tell and I am always willing to collaborate on interesting projects.


Über mich:

Ich heiße Sebastian Buchner . Gelegentlich habe ich mich als Fotografen oder Künstler beschrieben, aber am treffendsten ist es wohl zu sagen, dass ich ein Geschichtenerzähler bin, der in verschiedenen Medien arbeitet. Einige davon sind visuelle Medien, andere informative und wieder andere rein erfundene.

Hin und wieder kann ich mein Brot und meine Rechnungen mit Geld bezahlen, das ich mit Fotografie oder Worten gemacht habe – das macht mich unglaublich glücklich. Ich lebe vom Reisen und von Kursen in Fotografie, Zeichnen und visuellem Geschichtenerzählen. Ich halte auch Vorträge über meine Reisen, schreibe Artikel und zeige meine Fotografien bei Ausstellungen. Ich schreibe viel und fotografiere Menschen in ihrem Leben und Werken und hin und wieder die Bilder, die in meinem Kopf auftauchen.

Wenn Dir irgendetwas hier gefällt, kannst Du mir gerne schreiben. Ich mache gerne Auftragsfotografien, höre jedem zu der etwas Interessantes zu erzählen hat und bin immer interessiert an potentiellen Kollaborationen.

Image Selection – Blue, Red, Green, Yellow

An attempt to create a photograph that looks like an Orientalist painting. The mountains, receding into light or the sky. | Ein Versuch, eine Fotografie wie ein orientalistisches Gemälde aussehen zu lassen. Die Berge verschwinden im Licht oder im Himmel selbst.

A sternly meditating Buddha with a red shape passing by in the background.  | Ein Buddha, versunken in strenger Meditation, dahinter ein roter Schemen.

The mountains never seem as verdant and lush as around a village. Everything else is desert. | Nur in der Umgebung eines Dorfes wirken die Berge so grün und lebendig. Der Rest ist Wüste.

A utensil used by monks in a monastery. I don’t know what it is, but the shadow fascinated me. | Ein unbekanntes Utensil in einem Kloster…der Schatten hat mich fasziniert.