Why Experimental Photography is Important - BRYCE Watanasoponwong

Why Experimental Photography is Important

BRYCE Watanasoponwong
Experimenter, photographer and visual storyteller based in Bangkok, Thailand
The world of art is filled with people who create compelling images. But while a lot of this work is beautiful and moving, very few people are willing to experiment in art.

Since I discovered the camera as a tool for expression, I have pursued photography passionately. And a significant part of this pursuit has been the continual exploration of how I can interpret the meaning of life through this practice. Ultimately, this led me to experimental photography.

Then, I discovered the Experimental Photography Festival in Barcelona, which opened me to a large community of fellow travellers. Here was a group of people searching for new ways to create images.

But the more I have made experimental art, the more I have realised that there needs to be more understanding about this realm. That’s what I’d like to address today.

What Do We Mean by Experimental Art


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Photo: Untitled, an unpublished photo from my series Illusion, BRYCE Watanasoponwong, 2020.

Experimental art is any art made in a process that tries out new things rather than relying on well-known techniques.

Think of it like an experiment in science. In this sense, people will test a new idea about how the world works. They do that by designing a situation where you should get a definite result if your idea is correct. These experimentations involve highly controlled settings and strict data collection.

For artists, our experiments are similar. We get ideas about new methods or techniques, and to know if we are correct, we have to use them in the context of a unique work of art. We wear fewer lab coats.

In some ways, experimental art is more about the spirit of practice than the end results. This distinguishes it from most other genres, where definitions are typically associated with the aesthetic qualities of the final product.

Historically speaking, we might call something “experimental” if we tried something new that never led anywhere. In this view, what Claude Monet did was not experimental; it was Impressionism! Now, did he know what he was doing when he started doing it? Probably not, but that does not make for as good a story. In fact, we prefer to hear about how a genius birthed a movement through the power of their intellect and skill in the studio.

But back to experimental art.

Our working definition runs into some valuable criticisms. After all, isn’t all art, to some degree, made using trial-and-error processes? Don’t all kinds of artists strike out into the unknown?

Yes, but often they don’t do this consciously, and when they do it, this usually has a subtle effect on the outcome.

We could say that experimental art wears its exploration on its sleeve. In these works, you can see the artist trying something new. The experiment itself is part of the form and content.

How Experimental Art Grows


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Photo: Joy, an unpublished photo from my series Illusion, BRYCE Watanasoponwong, 2020.

Now, in today's art world, how do we keep this understanding of experimental work? After all, we have seen constant erosion of the diving lines between all genres and mediums over the last few decades. Whereas once there were clear distinctions between painting, drawing, and all the rest, now transgressing these borders is as common as staying within them. In fact, experimentation in this sense has become so normal that it threatens to bore us.

What we see is that experimental art necessarily lives at the far end of what we think of as possible. It always goes to the horizon and never stays long to work over known territory.

That is what makes this field so exciting. It wouldn't be experimental if you could predict where it goes next!

Eventually, some of these novel techniques will be taken up by the mainstream. And we will look back at their emergence not as an "experiment", but as an "innovation", as if the artists who did it know exactly the implications of their new ideas.

But until that point, it is all an experiment.

My Experimental Journey… So Far


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Photo: Untitled, an unpublished photo from my series Illusion, BRYCE Watanasoponwong, 2020.

My career took a turn into experimental photography, almost without me realising it. The shift began with COVID-19 lockdowns, when I had time and the purpose to see how far I could push my photography, both in the camera itself and in the analog and digital development of the final images.

Over time, I developed the ideas that came to be known as #CameraAsBrush. But each step of the way happened organically. I never thought to myself, “Hey, I should do experimental art!” Instead, it arose bit by bit.

The experimentation led to several of my most crucial series so far, like:
Illusion
Crossing Boundaries
Saving Face

And this experimentation reached a breakthrough with my latest work Serenity. This is perhaps the most “out there” piece I have done. To produce it, I brought together new techniques in the photographic process, development, and presentation.

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Photo: Serenity, BRYCE Watanasoponwong, 2022.
Why Experimental Photography is Important -
Why Experimental Photography is Important -
Why Experimental Photography is Important -
Why Experimental Photography is Important
Why Experimental Photography is Important
Why Experimental Photography is Important

Serenity is technically a self-portrait that makes up a circle with many colourful patterns swirling over the surface. Within the multiple colours lies emotional and spiritual symbolism — some explicitly worked out, others that arose naturally from the creative process.

It is currently on view as part of the MORPHIC contemporary art exhibition at the ILFORD Gallery in Bangkok.

Creating Serenity reminded me how powerful experimentation can be in telling my story through the photograph. Of course, that does not mean I have any rules. I will always use whatever medium and method best express my vision.

Final Thoughts


In the end, experimentation in art is about trying things you never have before. It is about exploring the possible, rather than relying on the tried-and-true techniques you have already mastered.

And in your artistic practice, bringing together these two realms (which are new to you and which you are practicing) ultimately produces, once in a while, the most important kind of work - the kind that changes how people make art for generations. Yet when that happens, your breakthroughs will no longer be considered “experimental art.”

I encourage everyone reading this to let this spirit run wild in your studio. You never know where it might take you!

What do you think about experimental photography and experimentation in art? I would love to hear your thoughts on this fascinating topic!

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About Me

Experimenter, photographer and visual storyteller based in Bangkok

BRYCE Watanasoponwong is an experimenter, photographer and visual storyteller. He is interested in producing a narrative series that evokes emotion and makes a personal impact. Becoming more involved in how photography is... read on
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