Recently in conjunction with a few random meetings, conversations and photography outings I’ve had an epiphany or two in relation to my outlook on photography. This is the first of five posts that inter-relate. The preface or teaser to this if you will, was a quote by Elliott Erwitt that struck a nerve with me and was posted just the other day. With that being said here is the first of a five part blog entry series…
You Are Here: The Ultimate Compliment
Photography can be a very introspective activity. There are so many challenges to overcome and the interpretation of the output is so subjective it often leaves photographers feeling quite insecure. I for one have had the natural reaction of experimenting and researching as much as possible to improve my photographic skills. It’s been a fun process and I’ve continually kept my ear open for feedback.
Interestingly enough two things happened recently that got me thinking. First I got a great if not ultimate compliment that got me to secondly see an evolution of my perceptions regarding my photography. I’ve only been serious about photography for about 10 years now so I can’t claim to know if my evolution of perception about photography will be the same for everyone.
My first goal when I started photography was to learn how to consistently and accurately capture what I saw. This meant an overt focus on technical improvement and understanding. As a result if someone were to compliment me on my technical skills it was my ultimate compliment at that time.
Some years later I began feeling more comfortable with my technical skills and began to build on what seemed to be a naturally strong eye for composition. Eventually with greater attention to detail and a refined workflow while in the field I began to improve in this area. Just as you’d expect at this time if someone complimented me on my composition or a technical component of my exposure it was my ultimate compliment.
As I began to feel more comfortable with my technical knowledge and composition I looked to create photographs combining these skills into my photographic work. At this point, in retrospect, I think I fell into a bit of a rut in my thinking. My photography was reaching a caliber I had been striving for, but unknowingly the mental part of my photographic game seemed to plateau. The height of this for me came during my photo a day project. Yet at the same time my photo a day project became a great mental exercise to train my mind to more consistently see things. That in itself seemed to prime a change in how I approached things there after.
Jump forward to four months ago… I received an inferred compliment, from someone I greatly respect, that has since turned my perceptions on its ear. Different than past “ultimate compliments” this one has stood out because I wasn’t aiming for it in conjunction with an on going goal like technical improvement or composition. This compliment spoke to a broader concept that I had lost sight of over the years.
The compliment from another photographer and a friend was that my photography had artistic merit. Upon receiving this compliment my focus over night has been realigned to the art of photography versus the more analytical dissection of how to get the shot. The result has been the rebirth of my view on photography.
In many regards I feel like a veil has been lifted and the world has a new vibrance to it. The great thing about my altered outlook has been that the world again seems like there are infinite possibilities versus a laundry list of things to photograph because I should photograph them. Old subjects seem new and the subjects I’ve yet to photograph I’ll approach with a completely different mindset. As great as this sounds this outlook also brings its potential pressures.
How should I approach my subjects now? Should I photograph a subject like I would in the past? Should I be striving for “art”? What if I feel like the results are falling short of “art”? Am I creating an artificial boundary that is unnecessarily high?
At this point I dismiss these questions and will do my best to do so when in the field as well. To turn an often seen bumper sticker on it’s ear… “art happens”. When it does it’s beautiful and I look forward to those moments. In the meantime all the things I’ve worked on the past 10 years I’ll use as the foundation to new goals… the art of seeing and the output of imagery that if I’m lucky might be considered art.
[tags]you are here, philosophy of photography, photography, philosophy, goals, art, [/tags]