January 10th, 2008
These interview scenes are unused scenes from the documentary about Jock Sturges (not included in the DVD)
Jock Sturges and beauty
In the summer of 2007, we travelled to the French Atlantic Coast to meet an artist whose images stand out from the diverse pool of contemporary photography. His subject matter is the human being. His tool is a large format camera. His goal is the depiction of nothing less than beauty.
He demands the truth from his photographs. For over 30 years, the American photographer Jock Sturges has dealt with beauty and truth, an idea of art, unfortunately, which is often scorned today. In order to recognize and appreciate that, which distinguishes his work, we must focus on the definition of beauty.
Beauty is first and foremost an abstract definition, a concept, difficult to determine. It has always been governed by history and culture. However, there is a certain degree of global consensus concerning to the notion of beauty. Not only do we define physical matter, such as humans, animals, plants or objects as beautiful, but also abstractions, such as ideas or the notion of the soul. Even Schiller in his essay “Kallias, or on the Beautiful” attempted to define beauty by means of deduction. He concluded, however, that a definition was impossible without the experience of beauty itself. And surely, at one time or another, we have all experienced some form of beauty. When we think of beauty, an individual picture quickly takes form in our minds. This picture, it seems, has something to do with a certain harmony in proportions, in symmetry, in its ability to move us. In the end, it is the precise definition of beauty that remains imprecise.
When attempting to approach beauty, we enter the fields of art-history and philosophy. Here we might find some answers. For centuries, there have been artists on a lifelong quest for beauty, depicting things or people, which are beautiful by nature and, in so doing, have created something new.
How does beauty found in nature differ from that found in art? Immanuel Kant once wrote: “A beauty of nature is a beautiful thing; beauty of art is a beautiful representation of a thing.” When this beautiful notion finds its sensual expression in a work of art, a masterpiece is created.
Now, however, the next question arises: When is a work of art beautiful? Friedrich Schiller wrote: “Art is beautiful when it depicts nature freely” This means that a work of art should not be an exact replica of the natural object, but must be enriched by the creative imagination of the artist. In the book “The Unknown Masterpiece” by Honoré de Balzac, the old artist Frenhofer states: „The aim of art is not to copy nature, but to express it.“
Not only are the models beautiful in Jock Sturges photographs, but also the light and the landscape in which they are embedded. There are even some true masterpieces, in which there is a glimpse of a heavenly glow in the lighting, and the model seems to melt into the landscape. In these pictures, the natural object itself is already beautiful and finds completion in the artistic expression of the photographer. Therefore, when we think of beauty, these are the photographs, which come to mind. They must not, however, be mistaken for depictions of perfection or some other form of popular beauty.
Jock Sturges. Misty Dawn; Northern California, 2004. From the book “Life – Time” by Steidl.
Sturges’ work does not depict beauty alone, but captures those rare moments of grace and poise, as well. And now to avoid further confusion of definitions, Friedrich Schiller must once again be quoted when he wrote that beauty is worshiped and grace loved. He states that grace is the expression of a beautiful soul. The fusion of these concepts in a single photograph makes certain moments in Sturges’ work magnificent.
When posed the question of the most important moment in his art, Jock Sturges mentions humanity, empathy and truth. Beauty seems to be of secondary importance, and yet, it is this beauty, which touches most and captivates the viewer at first glance. So much more, however, reveals itself in Sturges work at second and third glance.
Translation: Glummie Riday