A Matter of “Style-sight”: Artistic Photography & Our Own “Photo Printigraphy”

The concept of “photography” has been thoroughly changed by digital cameras, taking pictures via mobile phones, and transferring snapshots straight onto a PC or a TV to share on the Internet.

The elimination of the costs of buying film, processing it, and printing, plus the freedom to release images any time without encumbering the photographer with quantities of uncomfortable equipment, have brought about the standardization of images.

Photo of statue and pigeon by Piero Leonardi
© 2009 Piero Leonardi. All rights reserved.

The necessity of learning the key concepts of photography has been overcome by automatic appliances. Most people now click without worrying about setting the lens stop properly or planning the shutter release.

They simply employ loads of clicks, confident that among them we will find “the good one.” If the final image suffers from a wrong exposure, then image editing programs will enable them to remedy the problem.

What has “photography” come to, then, in the most traditional sense of the term? It has been changed, becoming a mass-phenomenon. Thanks to digital technology, we are all able to release a technically fine photo by using automatic settings either on a camera or a mobile.

Photo of camera taking a photo of flowers by Piero Leonardi
© 2011 Piero Leonardi. All rights reserved. Any mobile device can create a snapshot with good exposure if the light is right. However, the features of its sensor limit the dimensions of the image and the definition of details.

So, who are photographers today? By definition, photographers should be professionals, careful with the setting of the lens stop as well as with the most suitable timing, apparently no longer needing wider technical knowledge on the matter.

However, if anybody can take a “correct” photo, how can the photographic artist express themselves by means of the photos they release?

Neil Leifer maintains that photography does not show reality at all but reveals the idea one has of it.

Photo of flowers floating in blue by Piero Leonardi
© 2007 Piero Leonardi. All rights reserved.

The perception of reality is subjective–being able to take a photo  from one’s own point of view means illustrating a subjective reality.

Abstract photo by Piero Leonardi
© 2010 Piero Leonardi. All rights reserved.
Abstract photo by Piero Leonardi
© 2007 Piero Leonardi. All rights reserved.

The key could be our idea of the world. The rest happens thanks to our own way of photographing the world – transfiguring it. A personal and thus unique vision turns out only by means of our own Style-sight.

If any time we use a pen, calligraphy becomes the unique sign of our handwriting, then when we use a camera we can’t do anything but acquire our own “Photo Printigraphy”–the only way we can detect ourselves revealing our own method of watching the world.

Photo: Ink well and shadow of calligraphy pen in a hand writing textl by Claudia Fiorucci
© 2008 Claudia Fiorucci. All rights reserved.

Calligraphy is a peculiar mark of our personality. When I refer to “Photo Printigraphy,”  I mean the importance of reproducing such a mark from writing into an image.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Tazio Secchiaroli, David LaChapelle are among the photographers who, by means of their own Photo Printigraphy, leave the unique marks of their art in their images. That’s why they are considered to be “masters”: they have been able to turn photography into art.

Technique has never been enough. Before the advent of the digital era, the photographer inevitably combined his own style with technical knowledge.

Today, the worldwide spread of technical appliances has made photographic style even more vital to determining the differences between artists and contributing to the definition of individual quality.

Style-sight becomes the indispensable, methodic approach to creating by clicking a snapshot, since the idea someone has of reality is already in itself an artistic expression because it belongs to the individual’s creativity. It’s unique and, therefore, recognizable.

Style-sight is the key individual element that keeps us away from photocopies so as to project ourselves into our code-language of watching, which is now and always will be peculiar.

© 2003 Piero Leonardi. All rights reserved.

Le Pont de Langlois aux Lavanderìes painted by Van Gogh. It is still suitable today for all in the countryside of Arles.

Being conscious of our own Style-sight and then using it consciously does not automatically entitle us to be considered as leading fashion photographers, for example. However, it can turn any snapshot into our own “Photo-graphy,” a recognizable photo, our own “Photo Printigraphy.”

Our engagement with the public and the appreciation that may follow are no longer crucial, or at least they aren’t so “in” for the moment. Our aim is to be identifiable throughout our snapshots. The world of pictorial art provides a good example: a work of art by Mirò or Botero is recognizable even without a signature.

They are painters who convey a unique creative message that recalls the maker.

The process of a painting springs from the inside. Why can’t photography work the same way? Everyone has his own Style-sight. It develops through the years based on life and experiences. We should just recover it and replace it with a point of view; we should understand how we see, rather than what we see.

Confronted by a scene, each of us is attracted by certain details or perceives the same things in a different way.

The Perception of Things

Unlike photography, painting has always decorated human culture. It’s through painting that we recover the memory of how man has perceived himself as well as the environment in which he lived throughout different ages. Rupestral (carved in stone or written on…) paintings in Val Camonica (in the Italian central Alps) are an excellent guide to understanding the perceptive evolution of those peoples who inhabited the area.

From very plain drawings depicting animals, prey dating back to the seventh millennium, the paintings and engravings of the fifth millennium, when mankind augmented hunting with agriculture, began representing not only human beings but also geometric signs like rectangles and circles which probably symbolized fields.

With the advent of the first millennium, drawings began depicting weapons, and human muscles and genitals were used to express the ideals of virility and superiority to which the commoners aspired.

Religious iconography, dating back to the late European Middle Ages, was symbolic of both the outstanding presence of religion in people’s imagery and the fact that the Church was, to painters, a client to please just because it was so powerful and rich.

Therefore, images are historical proofs, not merely of man’s evolution, but also and mostly of perception, of how the historical period was actually perceived.

Abstract water photo by Jordi Leonardi
© 2007 Jordi Leonardi. All rights reserved.

The different perceptions of the water we have are clear examples of how the context as well as our mood may change our perceptive approach towards anything.

Abstract water photo by Jordi Leonardi

© 2007 Jordi Leonardi. All rights reserved.

As for any manifestation of human intelligence, the techniques that are used to reproduce images have benefited from an evolution that has lasted ages and ages–from rupestral engravings to photography.

If, on the one hand, technology together with handicraft improved, on the other, perception became the indispensable inner input that allowed life to be represented. While technique can be handed down, perception belongs to the human being living within his historical context.

It’s the instinctive and peculiar expression of one’s way of being. The comprehension and understanding of how we perceive play key roles if we want to transmit what we see through an image. The process doesn’t make use of practice or technical experiments; it uses philosophical speculations.


Returning to the origins of photography, we should reload time back to Aristotle—the fourth century A.D. After Pythagoras and Plato, Aristotle studied light, working out the theory that is considered nearest to modern thought. Aristotle worked out studies on colors, too, on sight and perception, on the vital tangle between sensation and desire–“pulsion” as Freud would have defined it.

Aristotle maintained that we may demand water because we are thirsty, because we want to refresh ourselves, because we want to sprinkle the garden. The demand for water meets different needs; however, it is only water. We perceive it differently according to the urges of momentary necessities.

The same goes for what we see. Our perception changes according to the way we are. Our way of being is unique, like fingerprints, as is the message we can convey through our photography. Taking photos with this perspective means making the product unique. The result is releasing “our own” object–not just “an” object. We should, then, become aware of our own point of view.

Recalling Aristotle and the various reasons for a demand for water, in photography we should consider that the same object can be released in several different ways–no one way is best. However, only one can represent our own perception of the object in the best possible way.

Black and white photo of people and their shadows by Piero Leonardi
© 2003 Piero Leonardi. All rights reserved.

At the beginning of the 18th century, Stefano Silhouettes invented a process thanks to which images could be reproduced using a sharp contrast between black and white. Today these photographic images still bear his name.

As for the technical aspects of taking pictures, we should refer to Aristotle once more to discuss modern photography. The first example of “dark room” was probably achieved by Aristotle himself; he performed it to observe a solar eclipse.

The “dark room” or “oculus artificialis” (as Leonardo Da Vinci called it) is nothing but the artificial reproduction of the function of the human eye in which the image reaches the lens, enters the eye upside-down, and passes through the optic nerve to the brain where the image is finally set straight.

In 1685, German Johann Zahn performed the first reflex placing a 45° mirror in a dark room. Until that moment, reproduction had undergone different improvements. Using his trick, images were put straight.

The first experiments in obscuring by exposing to light started in the thirteenth century. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, Stefano Silhouettes placed a black sheet from which he had cut a human profile over a plate covered with silver chloride. He exposed the whole of it to the light and achieved an image inventing a style that still bears his name.

Next, joining physics with the dark room and chemistry with experiments on photosensitive material, in the summer of 1826, Joseph Nicéphore Niepce created the first snapshot in history at Le Grass in France.

Mankind has always tried to reproduce reality using appliances as well as chemical reactions. The result of such a reproduction has always been mediated by individual sensation. In subjective perception, we can detect the only true constant from prehistory until today in expressing images. The camera in itself is nothing but a further instrument enabling us to render our own Style-sight.

by Piero Leonardi

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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