I received my November copy of Outdoor Photographer Magazine today and read a very good article by author and photographer, Guy Tal (The Concept: How to Have a Purpose and Make a Plan), on the difference between taking a photograph OF something versus taking a photograph ABOUT something. It took me awhile to even understand this concept, let alone consciously implement it–perhaps I’m still wrestling with (and will continue to do so) the consistent application of this philosophy. Tal goes on to demonstrate the premise of creating meaningful photography with two example questions that a photographer might ask when reflecting upon their own work, the first being from someone just beginning their journey as an artist, “Is this a good image?”, and the second being from an artist further along on their own personal journey, “What does this image tell the world about me?” This second question really hits hard. And I think about it every single time I post something. I often find myself siting in my office chair–detached from the field and the trip and the effort of the capture–viewing a potentially new photograph, and asking myself: “does this reflect what I’m about?” And that is a scary hard question to answer because of its personal nature–at least for me!
As I’ve progressed within the art world through photography (and I’m a newbie really), it has become clear that the products of my efforts in the field are really just windows into who I am as a person. My photography speaks plainly, albeit through a visual language, as to the ways in which I approach a place physically and mentally; the emotions that I feel when I’m there; the things I value; the things that excite me (and those that don’t). Or at least sometimes they do. When I get some of it right. And that’s not always. Hell, that’s not even often to be honest. However, I’ve come to believe that the more honest, sincere and open I am with the connection between myself and my work, the more successful I’ve been in general. It’s all too common to hear photographers complaining about the over saturated nature of the photography industry today. I would offer, however, that perhaps this wide spread sentiment is really just an indication of the relatively immature place that all of us photographers (new and old alike–and myself included) are at when trying to understand what we’re actually doing out in the field and what quantity we’re actually competing on in the marketplace (and it’s not the photograph if you’re wondering!). It is a race out there for sure, but not towards who can line up the largest amount of identical shots with the best gear and the best conditions from the most well-recognized places. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly that easy. Instead, it’s a race inward, toward understanding ourselves deeper and more fully–our own motivations, desires, and aspirations–and then learning how to somehow reflect those hard earned nuggets outward through our chosen craft. That’s how we create more meaningful photography. That’s part of how we move past just taking photos of places and begin, instead, to make photographs about places and about our own unique experiences within them.
If you’re not familiar with Guy Tal and his writings, I would highly suggest bookmarking his blog as you’ll find a lot of great insight and information there. He’s on another level and his writings are consistently fantastic! http://guytal.com/wordpress/.