I was going to leave the subject of aloneness alone for a wee while (ironic huh?). But since writing my last post a couple of interesting articles came to my attention via the wonders of social media. As I read them I felt myself shouting “yes!”. Though making different points and certainly better written than mine, I felt like there were some common themes so I thought I’d share them here.
[Warning! Pretentious philosophical ramblings follow. Proceed with caution!]
In some of my posts I’ve mentioned wanting to make more ‘honest’ images. Hopefully it’s clear that in this context ‘honesty’ doesn’t mean ‘accurate portrayal’ of a scene. Rather it’s a reference to the photographer’s motivation and intention behind the image.
For some time I’ve struggled to understand exactly what this concept of ‘honesty’ in photography was. Talk of "reaching inside of yourself", “making images true to you”, etc made for good soundbites but offered little in the way of a helpful path forward. Some people will likely grasp these philosophical ideas quickly, but in the past I've struggled to translate them into practical application.
I remember going through several years thinking that photography, particularly landscape photography, had to conform to certain rules and had to have a certain aesthetic. It felt like a good photograph had to look a certain way otherwise it should be junked. It was a bit of a competition to produce the most ‘wow’ in the genre - the best light, the best location, the best gear, the best best. More faves, more likes, more Explores, more mores.
But slowly, drip-drip-drip, this idea of ‘being myself’ has started to sink in. I find myself following the crowd less, following my instinct more, and I’ve got to say I’m loving my photography more than ever for that.
When No-One is Looking
Ok, but what is ‘honesty'? Well, this is where the brilliantly creative Michael G Jackson comes in with this post: http://mgjackson.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/being-honest-with-yourself/
I think Mike gets it spot on in his post.
"Someone who seeks things in secret. Someone who doesn’t need reassurance or to discuss what they discover to see if it is valid. They just need to do what it takes to get the results that they have been looking for.”
I think the ‘honest’ images are those images that we’d make if no-one was looking and if we didn’t care for comments and faves. They’d be the ones that we loved, perhaps initially not knowing why we loved them or how to recreate them but still they point in the right direction.
I think most of us start with sunsets (sunrises are too damn early!), bounce around with different techniques and aesthetics, and ultimately start to narrow down and work out what it is that we’re looking for from our images. That’s the path to honesty and individuality. How quickly we travel down that path, how quickly we photographically mature as it were, is as unique to each of us as the destination.
Some of us will never get there, forever shackled by the rule of thirds and standout locations. The rest of us, if we’re mindful and reflective enough, will get there one day. It’s quite reassuring really. All we need to do is think for ourselves.
It Would Be Like Forcing Love
Soon after reading Mike’s post I came across this letter by Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain to his nephew: http://fotografiamagazine.com/letter-by-sergio-larrain-to-his-nephew/
There is much wisdom in this letter I feel. Two parts in particular stuck out for me.
"Photograph the way you like it. Don’t believe in nothing but your taste, you are life and it’s life that chooses. Don’t look at what you don’t like, there’s no need to. You are the only criterion, but also consider everything else.”
I think this echoes Mike’s words. He then goes on to say:
"Don’t force yourself to taking photographs: this kills the poetry, the life in it gets sick. It would be like forcing love or a friendship: you can’t do it.”.
That line suddenly made me think what honesty in photography might be all about and also why it’s sort of difficult to explain. Can you define love? You know it when you find it, but it’s difficult to put into words. It’s such a part of our soul, our subconscious, and probably our chemistry that we could probably never explain it satisfactorily. But for me, it’s that sort of feeling when you know you’re on the right path.
When I’m in the landscape and find something that fully engages me I become completely lost in it, everything else fades from my mind. Sometimes I take photographs and not another thought enters my head, I’ve only got eyes for that moment and my heart - honestly - skips a beat. Sometimes taking photographs is like falling in love. Is that honesty right there?
Equally, as Larrain says, you can’t force love or friendship. It comes naturally because it comes from within us rather than as conscious thought. Maybe forcing it is that that feeling when you’re fighting with a subject, a composition, have an unease, trying to match another image we've seen, or when you see a dozen other photographers lined up making essentially the same image. In our hearts, I think, we know it’s not going to amount to much. It could be an amazing image, mind blowing, but if it’s not made by our heart then it soon passes into obscurity. A great one night stand perhaps?
Little White Lies
It’s that feeling when you know you’re telling a lie, even just a little white lie. It doesn’t feel quite right but you think you’ll get away with it. Perhaps you think it is actually the right thing, you just need to convince yourself first. Eventually you’ll come unstuck. Maybe not publicly but you’ll lose interest in it yourself.
When that happens you’ll look at your work, look at yourself and work out where you want to go next. If done with a good heart it will only point to a more honest, individual direction.
Again, it's reassuring. There are no wrong turns if honestly made, it's all just part of the journey. But I think the more that we reflect on our work and consider what we want to say and get out of it, the sooner we'll get to a place where we're comfortable in our skin as an artist.
Just to finish, the above is directed towards myself more than anyone. In many ways this is all recent revelation for me. Yet I don't think it's a eureka moment, rather it's an ongoing - lifelong? - process of self-discovery. My images now are certainly more honest than my images in the past and better for it as far as I'm concerned. Going forward I expect to continue that trend, and that makes for quite an exciting journey don't you think?
[This post contains 5 images I made this morning. I like all of them for different reasons. Only 4 of them feel like mine. Can you tell which is the white lie?]