Personal reflection – Why I photograph

As I was setting up this blog and filling the “about” section, I wrote that I had been taking pictures regularly for more than 10 years without really understanding why I photograph. I looked back at my profile for the first photography blog I set a year ago, in the context of me starting OCA’s Expressing your Vision course, and realised that I wrote something similar: “…I hope [that studying photography at OCA] would…help me rationalise what I do, why I do it that way and how I can improve it”.

This is only the beginning of my second course and I can only say that I have more doubts now than when I started. Until a few years ago, photography was relatively uncomplicated to me: I just took pictures as a pastime, publish them online or at my local camera club and little else. Before that, at the very begining, it was event less complicated: I was just taking pictures for my own pleasure without even bothering publishing them, and I was not even part of a camera club. I was just content with snapping away, probably in the same way (but obviously without the same results) as Garry Winogrand enjoyed picture-taking so much (as can be seen here) that he accumulated over 6000 rolls of film that he either did not develop or had no time to print by the time of his death(1).

I cannot really pinpoint how and when the doubts started to creep, but at some point I realised that I was doing the same thing over and over again and then the feedback I was getting from others started to become predictable, but not in a satisfactory way. I was known for certain types of pictures, but I was unable to explain them, not only from the point of view of their narrative, but (perhaps more frustratingly) also from their aesthetical value. If I was unable to explain myself, nobody else could be bothered either.

Just as I was doing Expressing your Vision last year, I started to “fill buckets” with my pictures. One of the assignments in that course was about collections and from that I got the idea of creating thematic collections, or buckets, in Lightroom that I would fill with the pictures I took as a pastime. Prior to that, I had arranged pictures by ratings and places, and also by equipment (useful for when I could not find a picture by keyword but at least I remember which camera or lens I used to take it), but not by themes. Some of the buckets have filled more quickly than others, and at least I can have an idea of what my recurrent themes are. I still cannot make sense of it, but I seem to be attracted to dark, high contrast scenarios; to people in geometric patterns (perhaps something unconscious from seeing Henri Cartier-Bresson pictures); to reflections and shadows; and to abandoned objects and rubbish. Unlike pictures that may come from the imagination of an illustrator or a painter, or at least composed from images previously seen and remembered, these pictures are not made up. They are there in nature to be seen by anybody but I somehow feel compelled to capture them. They have no clear meaning and no obvious purpose, other than to satisfy my desire to collect them.

But they clearly must come from one place. Brassai, when interviewed by Tony Ray-Jones in 1970 (excerpt available here) mentioned that his training as a painter may have influenced some of the photographs he took, something that would not have happened to a photographer “…who had never seen paintings and who did something with his or her sight absolutely fresh.” (2). Perhaps on this day and age of social media, when one is likely to be inundated by thousand of different (or not so different) pictures on a daily basis, the correct analogy may not necessarily be between ones background as a fine artist and what we photograph, but between what we experience as consumers of images, and how that shapes our photographic outcome, either at the time of clicking the shutter or when post-processing for printing or web sharing. In recent months I have experienced repealing forces in my photography: on the one hand, I have taken photographs that are in no way any different from the many million pictures posted every day in Flickr or Instagram. At the same time, I have also taken photographs that are either inexplicable, boring or unappealing by the conventional aesthetic standards of today. Both types of imagery must come from some place inside my head (for Brassai, in the same interview, also mentioned that “…one doesn’t only photograph with the eyes but with all one’s intelligence.“(2)) and while I could only assume that the conventional photographs must come from all the good samples that I have seen of this in websites, magazines, books and my local camera club, the weird ones must also have their inspiration, be it a unconcious rejection of (what I consider to be) the prevailing aesthetic standards, which may simply manifest itself as an impulse to try “something new” or, at least recently, some sort of attraction towards unconventional work from the likes of Keith Arnatt and Fay Godwin, which I first experienced while studying for Expressing you Vision.

Shown above are some recent images I have taken, some conventional, other not so much.

To be clear, the problem is not that I am not able to imagine how a picture will look like in the end. I am capable of forming at least a preliminary idea of what the outcome needs to be, although in many cases limitations in technology, lack of the necessary post processing skills or even (sometimes happy) accidents may make me change my mind in that regard. The problem is more or less one of inception: at the moment what I seem to have is an impulse for clicking. This is not, in the end, something I want to have. If I can get to a position where I am conscious about what I am doing and able to explain to myself why I need to take a picture, what I am going to do with it in the end, and how the whole process transforms my vision into something that I feel personally satisfied with, regardless of whether it is unique or conventional, then I stand a better chance at convincing others that they should care about what I got to say.

I sincerely hope that by the time I write the introduction to my next learning blog under OCA, perhaps a year from now, I would have made some progress on my understanding of why I photograph.

___________________________________

(1) Anon, Garry Winogrand. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2014/garry-winogrand [Accessed June 13, 2017].

(2) Anon, 2015. Tony Ray-Jones Interviews Brassai” Pt. I (1970) | #ASX. AMERICAN SUBURB X. Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/08/interview-brassai-with-tony-ray-jones.html [Accessed June 13, 2017].

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