Roger Hicks considers… Most photographers are egotistical
‘A Brahmin Priest’, 2017, by Sandra Dubout
Often, ‘less is more’ because when we look at a picture, our vision is filtered through our own memories, prejudices, preconceptions and experiences. Your appreciation of this picture will therefore depend on how much you know about India.
However, the exhibition of which this was part also tells you a great deal about India. The chaotic nature of the country, with its crowds and colours, is superbly illustrated in Sandra’s other pictures. Intermingled with them, though, are pictures like this – reminders that the apparent chaos is made up of billions of tiny and often very still scenes. It’s just that they don’t always relate to one another in the way we might expect if we were brought up in the West. Sometimes, the relationships are much closer. Sometimes they don’t appear to exist at all. In order to understand how cleverly she combines ‘ less is more’ with ‘more is more’, you need to see a whole exhibition, or at least to go to her site at www.facebook. com/sandraduboutphotography. This prompted me to think about what we want or expect from looking at pictures. Most photographers are, I believe, egotistical: one of the main reasons we look at others’ work is because we want to learn to improve our own. This is not necessarily the same thing as wanting to emulate them, though. Sandra uses far more saturated colours than I do, but I’d be a fool if I thought, ‘Ah! That’s what’s wrong with my pictures of India. They aren’t enough like Sandra’s.’ More useful is, ‘How are my pictures different from Sandra’s? How can I make them more like what I want?’ This is very different from, ‘How can I make them more like hers?’
It also reminded me of another of my theories, which I call ‘osmosis’ – the idea that looking at pictures infuses the soul, or mind, or heart, with an awareness of what makes a ‘good picture’. We don’t always need to analyse it. Indeed, we cannot always analyse it. Here we can analyse the contrasts in colour, shape and texture; we can think about ‘ less’ and ‘more’, and symbols, and culture (note the wrist cord), and even the form and fragility of pots. That’s all to the good. But osmosis is to do with something more, something we appreciate on a non-verbal, non-rational level: art, maybe. I learned a lot osmotically from Sandra’s pictures.