personal work

by julie posted June 8, 2009

At some point a while ago I felt a definite shift in my photography, where it became less about what was in front of the camera, and more about what was going on behind it. I’ve still been doing the pretty flower thing since, but it’s been mixed in with more and more stuff that’s meaningful for me (although maybe not for anyone else).

Even my SoFoBoMo book was based on the premise of exploring (ugh, I hate that term but can never find a suitable alternative so you’ll have to deal with it and it’s pretentious and arty connotations) feelings through images, and I have a reservation about going much further than adding a word or two to the photos because it then becomes less about allowing for interpretation and more about broadcasting my personal life.

It’s made me wonder what the scope is for showing your more private work. If you just present the images without any kind of explanation, it’s a double edged sword because then they will be what anyone thinks they are – either understood or misunderstood on any given level. Of course, this is exactly what a lot of artists do, because they feel that each individual viewer’s experience and reaction to the image is what makes the art, even to the extent that when pushed, they won’t share their own thoughts on it. But after reading so many blogs and reviews, I do struggle to see a photographer getting away with saying that because the quality of photography seems to be judged by the combination of intention and implementation, or ‘concept and form’ – with emphasis often placed more heavily on the concept.

I suppose my musing is circling around the idea of presenting work that’s very personal to you in a way that it can be appreciated properly, but without having to open up your feelings to everyone in the captions. Do you just post the pictures and let people take what they will from them? Do you come to terms with the sacrifice of sharing your feelings with strangers? Or do you simply keep that stuff to yourself and only post the pretty flowers?

10 Responses to personal work

  1. Context lets you go from “What a pretty flower!” to “What a pretty flower from an endangered species! It would be horrible for it to die out.”. Suddenly the picture has more meaning. It seems to me that the same applies with very personal pictures. Very few viewers will try to puzzle through a set of pictures by asking “Why did the photographer take this picture?”.

    Giving people some context helps them understand and value the images. Unfortunately, that means that if you want to share your really personal work you have to share your really personal feelings – or just accept that people won’t understand it.

  2. Well that explains the stock car stuff for a start….!
    Not that I can pretend to keep up with the artistic logic here , but I thought the ideal was to convey whatever it is your trying to convey through the image alone. Is explaining not cheating?

  3. With personal work, why the worry about being judged, or having people appreciate it properly?
    The only opinion that should really matter is yours, and that of those near and dear to you, and hopefully they’ll be able to get “it” without too much explanation.

  4. John – I wish I could completely discount that whole thing and as you say, care only about my own opinion and those of the people close to me. But like it or not, I do care how my photography is regarded by anyone who takes the time to look at it. Mostly the process of taking and editing the pictures is the important bit for me, but when I put them out there, I am making a choice to open myself up to the opinions of others.

    Aidan – the stock cars was more of a documenting a family day thing so it was very different for me! As for cheating… haven’t you heard me rant about that before? ;) I’m not sure if it’s possible to cheat in photography. After all, why are we doing it? The only way you can cheat at something is when you break rules and I don’t see what rules there are to break – everyone makes their own, I suppose. Having images that stand without explanation is just a rule that someone made up and it may or may not be right for any given person to adopt it for themselves.

    Erik – I think you’ve summed up the dilemma. I had hoped it wasn’t simply a ‘one or the other’ situation but it may be the case, and there isn’t much control to be had over that. Maybe there’s a way to find liberation in that, rather than struggling to control what you just can’t…?

  5. I wouldn’t make a difference between personal and non-personal work, at least not as long as we don’t talk about professional, payed work, and even then, how good could a professional be, without getting personal?

    On the other hand, I see what we do as an offer. For whatever reasons, we produce images, we blog, we expose ourselves, but it is not an obligation. It is an offer. I sometimes explain, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I care, sometimes not. People may “get” it if there is anything to get at all, people may believe they get it, even if there is not. It is not unimportant, but it is not all-important either.

    What I try to do, is to leave other people around me out. This is my thing, and while I have every right to expose myself, I don’t have the right to expose them. Sometimes you may get a hint about relations, but normally not. It’s also nothing that I would want to do, would feel a need to do.

    That’s for blogging. The images themselves, well, do you always feel certain about what an image “means”? I don’t. Frequently the images that I make trigger only vague but strong associations for myself. There may not be a strict meaning, much less a definite one. For me, that’s part of the experience. My own photography would bore me to death, if I always knew what I did.

    Thus, when I share my photography, I don’t share so much my litte secrets, I really share the way how I experience the world, and I don’t think that is something to worry about. If people learn something about me, about my beliefs, about my political opinions, that’s OK as well. I think it’s important to express your beliefs, to make your voice heard. Does that make sense?

  6. I would start with an assumption: Personal/private photography is that which is not intended for sale to an existing client. Fair? For certainly, when you are doing something for money, you have to make sure that the client gets what they want.

    Personal work is personal. Some images, I think, may not do a good job of standing alone. Someone may not ‘get it’. Of course, they may not get it, the photo is an amalgam of your unique experiences throughout life. It matters not, to me, if they get it. Certainly, it is a bonus if someone sees one of my photos and gets something out of it. I am pleased. It happens once in a while, but not often.

    Labels can help to direct the viewer; however, they also can confuse them as they may not be able to relate. Sometimes, if I feel that an image just ‘screams’ a particular name or caption, I’ll add one. If not, I’ll skip it. I think that letting the viewer stop, ponder, and wonder for just a bit is where I want to go with it. Labeling, I think, is a bit like spoon feeding. It lets the viewer of the hook and takes away desire to explore deeper.

    Personal work is just that, personal. In the end, some may like it, some may not, some may understand it, and of course, some may not.

  7. That’s an interesting question. In it’s broad sense, I do believe it’s good to provide captions that guides the viewer. It’s not as you would have let the door wide open to your personal life if you made a series of images from a sunny beach and wrote what you experienced there. There are captions and captions. Some helps the viewers getting the context of the place or situation, and some merely describes an inner thought or feeling. In front of the camera vs. behind the camera. I do both, I guess.

    Btw. You didn’t write a post on your blog so that we can say what we thought about your sofobomo work, maybe intentionally. If so, sorrry if I brought it up. :) I was really thrown into the scenes you captured, a truly lovely series of light and ‘airy’ images. Made me long for long walks by my own. And the horizontal layout was cool too. :) Btw #2, you did provide a sort of caption in that book that got me into a specific mode before I went on to the images. That worked fine, I think. I didn’t make me think of you, as the author, rather about me. I guess it depends on how you express yourself, how it will be received.

  8. Wow, too much to reply to in a comment. My brain is running round in circles trying to make sense of all the thoughts those comments just set off. Andreas definitely struck gold with:

    “The images themselves, well, do you always feel certain about what an image “means”? I don’t. Frequently the images that I make trigger only vague but strong associations for myself. There may not be a strict meaning, much less a definite one. For me, that’s part of the experience. My own photography would bore me to death, if I always knew what I did.”

    That’s ringing so true to me.

    Paul – in this particular situation I would be referring to ‘personal’ photography less about what’s not for sale but more about the stuff that really means something to you, as opposed to “Here’s a pretty flower I saw” which is the extent of a lot of my stuff.

    Ove – thanks for the insight on my book, and also for the reminder that although we get caught up in photography as something that’s about us, the photographers, when you’re the viewer, that’s who it’s all about. Both frustrating and a bit of a relief at the same time, isn’t it?

  9. You could try the word interpret instead of explore. It doesn’t always fit exactly but it’s nearly always better.

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