the subject itself

by julie posted May 23, 2007

Yes, I’ve been quiet for a while. I’ve been doing that thing, where you assess your progress and plan your direction, examine your motivations, identify a goal or two. Sometimes you need to forget about that stuff and just shoot, because you can get so tied up in it that you lose your creativity and energy. But this time I think I’m actually getting closer to a definable outcome. This is going to be a pretty self centred post, but maybe it will strike a chord and inspire someone else all the same…

My main reading over the last few days has been the essays of Bill Jay, and possibly in particular this one. It’s a sentiment that I’ve heard expressed by so many people, and it never really sunk in until now. I suppose sometimes you might just not be ready to learn something until you’ve experienced something else. I think that’s also why I didn’t buy Art & Fear when Neil suggested it about 6 months ago – I still had a lot of experience to gain before I was ready to take it on board. Now I’ve been shooting digital for a year (I tend to almost discount my previous years of slide stuff, since my output was rather less than prolific to say the least – far too precious about film), I have amassed a good amount of hours behind the camera and indeed a good few more, pontificating about the process!

So now I’ve really been taking this¬†all in on another level, I think I have most of the ‘snapshot’ stuff out of the way, and I’m ready to move on. But knowing just what ‘moving on’ means is a whole journey of discovery in itself, and I think I’m almost there. I’ve come to terms with the fact that in the end, it’s more important to me to create images that are visually appealing, than have an obvious message, or meaning, in them. What I’m struggling with, though,¬†is the prospect of limiting myself to a single subject, as suggested by Bill Jay in that article -¬†also debated recently by Colin Jago as a question of ‘wide or deep’.¬† Do you get to know one particular subject intimately, to the exclusion of others, so that you can produce better (more interesting…?) pictures of it than if you didn’t understand it outside of the actual photography side of things? Or do you sweep wide, skimming the surface of a greater range of subjects?

Given that I think we all have natural tendencies towards particular subjects, and also that the effort of travelling for the sake of finding new subjects as per the ‘wide’ approach might be inhibitive to my photography, I’m going to have to consider going a little more in depth with something I’m already familiar with to a certain extent.

Identifying what you want to home in on can be difficult, when it’s not immediately obvious. I want to choose a project that is naturally interesting to me, has plenty of visual appeal, and also has a certain depth to explore. I’m trying to visualise a collection on the walls of a room, and trying out different kinds of pictures to see which ones seem more interesting. There’s no doubt that I have an inclination to shoot nature/flower macros – if not macros then very intimate landscapes, but it’s a subject that has been done to death. Despite agreeing with George Barr’s recent thoughts on shooting what’s already been done, I’d still like to give myself a little bit more room for coming up with something you don’t see on the cover of Amateur Photographer every month.

I have a tiny seed of an idea that has started to grow, (no pun intended, honest) about the tiny little landscapes that are all around us in the city – even though we live in a jungle of bricks and concrete, the shoots and leaves and flowers spring up everywhere in little nooks and crannies, and although it’s probably fairly cheesy, it’s what I notice. Judging from my experience of walking round with other people, I seem to have a particular sort of attraction for things like that, and since I’d like my photography to prompt people to see things they usually wouldn’t notice, it’s what I’m thinking of shooting. What I do have to refine is just how to approach it.

But it’s certainly nice to have a project in mind, especially one so easily accessible.

3 Responses to the subject itself

  1. Regarding projects, I don’t tend to shoot that way, but I can see the value of it. I understand your need to go deeper into, I’ll say, discovery or ‘deeper’. I sometimes think that way, but then, tend to back off of it because it somehow looses its appeal. I’m not sure why. I think that the answer may be in that I prefer to photograph ‘life’, in all of its splendor, wonder, and variety. When I think of going deep, I think of missing out.

    I’ve read some of Bill Jay’s articles, as well. For me, it’s just another opinion offered of what is important, at least to him.

    I would agree with him in that you must be interested in the subject that you choose in order to sustain interest; however, I don’t think that I agree that you have to limit yourself to that subject nor to you have to do it professionally to become any good at it. That said, I think that the subject selected and the style used to portray it says something about the photographer.

    I don’t think that a photograph is photographer agnostic. The mere act of making a choice among the millions of possible subjects indicates what is important or at least attractive to the person who took it.

    Lastly, I, like George Barr, tend to not let it bother me that it’s been done before because:

    1. It hasn’t been done me.
    2. It hasn’t been done on this day with this light at this time.

    Good luck in your pursuit. I’m glad to see another bit of writing by you. I’m enjoying the reading. Keep up the good work!

  2. One of the things I like about reading stuff, is that sometimes I agree and it’s great to see someone else who holds the same viewpoint – then on other occasions, I don’t think the same way, but I can appreciate what they are saying and take what I can from it anyway. As you say, I don’t think it’s necessary to exclude all other subjects for the sake of a project – that initial fear of limitation is definitely very strong and if I’m out there and want to shoot something that isn’t related to the particular subject I’ve been planning, well, I’m sure as hell not going to miss out on shooting it ;)
    I’d say you don’t need to be a pro, either. Sometimes, the pros spend so much time working on their commercial assignments with the camera that they don’t have the energy for their own passions. That’s definitely an advantage to being an amateur!
    As far as the ‘doing something that’s been done before’ thing goes, I don’t want to feel like I’m subconsciously recreating something I’ve already seen – but at the same time, someone made a comment to me shortly after I got my first SLR and was questioning this exact issue – he said,
    “A man can never stand in the same river twice”
    Basically meaning that even if we went to the same place, and shot the same subject from the same viewpoint with the same film/settings as someone else, we would come home with a different picture from them because it’s us behind the camera, and it’s a different moment in time. I have to remind myself of that now and again.
    Thanks for your comment :)

  3. “Sometimes, the pros spend so much time working on their commercial assignments with the camera that they don’t have the energy for their own passions. That’s definitely an advantage to being an amateur!”

    Take it from someone with experience, that is all too true! I often have to FORCE myself to grab the camera and look for photos on my off time. Worse than that, my recent re-enthusiasm for fine-art work has made it difficult to remain excited about the day job.

    Bill Jay: like Brooks Jensen, he seems to be one of the few “common sense” essayists in the industry. No artsy gobbly-gook, no overly dramatic personal introspection, and no haughty self placement upon the all-too-high pillar. Just honest, pertinent, to the point, and oft hilarious musings.

    Projects: Julie, I wouldn’t try too hard to hash out, in depth, your photo project. You’ll find soon enough that it’ll develop a life of it’s own and take you directions you may have never considered. I mean, you have to do SOME planning (of course) but allow yourself room to tweak and modify the project. Looking forward to seeing what you’ll come up with.

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