A writer’s fancy: getting back to basics

An example of a High Dynamic Range (HDR) photo...
Image via Wikipedia

As some of you may know, I am, on the side, a hobby photographer. It’s a hobby that’s passionate of mine, but sometimes a frustrating one.

In the photography field, there is currently a strong emphasis on making, what I shall call for practical use, “fancy” photographs. These are photographs that no matter their subject matter – landscape, still life, the neighbor’s dog – attempt to be more artful than the simple point and shoot composition a camera naturally affords. Photographers use filters, strange shaped lenses, infrared, super-post-processing effects (like the HDR photograph included here), all to create a picture that transforms the simple, real world that they saw through the lens into something fantastical, unbelievable, better than real life – something fancy.

As I was browsing through photographs today on one of the art sites I participate on, it occurred to me that there is a trend for this in writing, too. Writers want to use big words, crack the binding on their thesaurus, inflate their sentences with phrases they may themselves not even fully understand, all to sound more intelligent, more beautiful, more fancy.

There’s nothing wrong with fancy writing or fancy photograph. It is something that takes us away from the mundane, teases the cerebral, evokes sometimes powerful imagery. It can offer a powerful springboard to deeper thought and meaning. By all means, fancy art is something that should be embraced. Embraced, but not trendy.

When you dress up a photograph, or a piece of writing, for the simple sake to make it look better, you’re trying to impart a deep evocation of the senses you don’t mean to convey. You try to paint meaning over something that has none. Like that annoying English teacher who tries to find secret meaning in every word of a poem, you forget that sometimes, words don’t have – or need – secret meaning. To dress up writing only to make it “look better,” you do a disservice to your readers and to yourself.

Writing and photography are both very honest mediums. They can be stretched and distorted, colored a dozen different ways, but in the end, the object they have focused on in their frame of view remains. You can use the most advanced techniques, but in the end, you still wrote about (took a picture of) your dog slobbering over his favorite toy. If you wish to make something fancy of it, see first if you have meaning to convey.

As they say, “Id est quid id est” – that’s fancy Latin speak for “It is what it is.”

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