by julie posted March 5, 2008

There was an interview with Laura Letinsky that I read sometime last week. She’s one of those photographers that has me interested, then the rational part of my mind kicks in and says “hang on, it’s just a plate of leftovers on a dirty tablecloth” and I struggle to take it seriously. Whatever I think of the actual photographs though, something in that interview must have been churning around in my subconscious because a few days after reading it, something she said started to nag at me. She made a reference to the disconnection between the photography by other people that she appreciated, and what she was producing of her own in her early days of shooting. It sounds like it was a bit of an epiphany for her – and it’s something I’ve hummed and hawed about in the past but never really focused on, but now somehow it seems important for me to understand before I can move on with my own photography.

Obviously, there’s going to be a difference between how you view your own photographs, and those of others. You have a connection with your own simply because of the act of having taken them Рyes, I’m stating the obvious, but I think it’s important.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about putting distance (of time) between yourself and your photos to try to reduce that connection, to improve your objectivity in editing them. But I’m not sure if trying to pretend that you’re not looking at your own work is going to be entirely positive – especially if you do your processing after this point. I think there’s something to be said for editing and processing when you still have that connection to the event, or place, or moment in your mind – if you wait until the memory has faded, do you still have a good gauge on how you felt at the time and which of the images represents that best, or how to process them to put it across? After that, I think you can do a second round of editing that tries to separate the actual ‘good’ stuff, in a larger sense, but that’s a different kind of editing.

I went slightly askew there… Getting back to viewing your own pictures vs. viewing someone else‚Äôs: you have an inescapable connection to reality in looking at your own stuff ‚Äì no matter how abstract the image, you were in a real place, taking that picture. You can‚Äôt deny that no matter how beautiful the scene might be, you know that there was a stinking great electricity pylon just to the right out of the frame, or that blurry bit of blue in the bokeh isn‚Äôt a flower but a plastic bag, and the magical forest path is actually in a public park ten minutes from your city centre office. If those were someone else‚Äôs images, you imagination would fill in the gaps with much less mundane, much more interesting/magical/meaningful information. But what does it mean? Does it mean that you are never going to enjoy looking at your own stuff as much as that of others? (Bearing in mind that I‚Äôm being a little selfish in my definition of what we like to look at, or indeed what we‚Äôre trying to do with out photography) Does that change your inclination to shoot? Does that change your motivation to shoot something in particular, or in a particular way? Is the goal really to bring the two in line?

I think there are two issues here actually. One is to do with how you judge/approach/view your own work, compared to that of others. The other is to do with the difference in themes or subjects or meanings between what you shoot, and what you like to view. I don’t tend to coo over flower macros. I am, however, fascinated with images of forests, suburban night scenes, and recently have been really interested in those images by Cara Phillips that tackle our perceptions of the beauty industry. So why don’t I make pictures about those things, too? Is it ok to be both a photographer and a critic – and have two entirely different tastes?

I’m not done with this. I need to think about it some more…

2 Responses to disconnection

  1. Interesting post, Julie. I’ve read it a couple of times and finally decided to reply.

    I spoke of the idea of a time gap between taking the picture and coming back to review it after I had seen a video about another artist doing it that way. As I said, it does make one a bit more objective about the emotional value of the picture, I think. I still never forget that I was there and looking at the picture, no matter how old, brings memories rushing back, so I am still, in that way, very much connected.

    Personally, I try not to compare my work to the work of others because, sometimes, that inner-critic rears its ugly head and says that I should do something like ‘that’; however, I can only do what I do. I am intimately connected with my photography.

    I, like you, have a great appreciation for texture, color, and especially the affect that light has on those two attributes. Regarding types of things to shoot, just these past two years, I have dropped the adjective from in front of ‘photographer’, such as landscape, or portrait, or even fine art, and just use the noun, Photographer. I shoot whatever appeals to me however I want to shoot it. That’s freedom!

    I’m sure that you’ve probably seen Doug Stockdale’s post, I am a photographer in which he talks about the same thing.

    I know that I’ve been all of the map in this post, but there were so many good points that you made that I felt the need to say something about most of them. :-)

  2. Thanks for the visit Paul :)

    It’s definitely an issue that most of us are going through or have experienced already in our photographic lives, I think, and there seems to be a few references to it going round at the moment – last night i listened to a Lenswork podcast called “Which Ruler?” and it was talking about comparing photography, there were a lot of excellent points in there that I won’t try to paraphrase here, but it’s definitely worth a listen anyway.

    I did read Doug’s “I am a photographer” post and had a little chuckle and a discreet “Hell yeah!” to myself too… down with pigeonholes! We are photographers, and that’s all there is to say :D

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