Philippe Petit: When Art Looks Effortless

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Philippe Petit is the high-wire-walker, famous for walking across the void between the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York in 1974.

“I knew as a wire walker, I would be a poet who writes in the sky
. Art happens when you work millions of hours not to make it look hard but to make it look effortless. The beauty for an audience is to be inspired and awestruck because you made them forget that the wire was even there.” Philippe Petit

To make the audience forget that there is a wire, he works incredibly hard before the actual performance, but nobody can see that it is even work what he is doing.

Many great artists create a similar experience like for example the great ballet dancer Nureyev or in music e.g. Sting. Their performances seem effortless.

That can lead to the wrong conclusion that they don’t work and shouldn’t earn money and definitely not those huge amounts, because it doesn’t look like hard work. The same principle applies to any craftsmanship or work that is wonderfully done, from the gardener to the business leader and the painter and the housewife. Behind the appearance of effortlessness hides the most difficult and hard work, making it look effortless itself is hard work.

What does that mean for
photography and photographers? One can often hear opinions that photography is no hard work, because it’s only a click on the shutter. When wildlife photography is presented its quality is often explained with the time the photographer had to spend to get the image and the difficulties he/she experienced in the bush. Other photographic artwork gets explained and valued with the hours the photographer had spend behind the computer to make it look like that and the more hours the more worth. But somehow nobody ever says about a photograph that it is great art, because it looks effortless. Is it, because there is controversy about what is art in photography or because people think that the other photographer only got lucky?

I don’t know, but I do know that every artist goes through a creative process with ups and downs and struggle and hassles, a painter, a musician and a photographer. And one can see the difference in the photographs, the story of the photographer is in them and photography itself is the effortless medium to visualize the efforts of the artist.

A creative journey in short is a photographic safari or a wildlife photography course. It’s the photographer and his/her camera that embark on the adventure and the pictures tell their story. The quality of the photos of the first day is different from the photos of the final day, yet they were taking with only a click on the shutter.

Keep working on effortless looking photography. It is not easy to get there, but when you make it, the results are mind-blowing.

Happy snapping!

Ute Sonnenberg for