Those who read this blog regularly know that I am fond of disclaimers. Let’s start with one then.
If you are taking photos occasionally and casually to share moments with your friends or family, this post is not addressed to you. In fact, you are probably wasting your time reading this blog.
While discussing photography or browsing articles about photography the phrase ‘it is all about the process’ became the Kool-Aid many seem to be drinking nowadays. If you don’t have an F1.2-wide smile on your face when holding a camera and if you don’t shout from the rooftops how happy you are while taking photos … you just don’t get it. After all, it’s all about the process! But what about the imagery?
If there is one place which constantly talks about the processes that lead to creating imagery, it is this blog. Please note, however, that we often use the term “Mechanics of Seeing” instead of the term “process.” The main reason we try to avoid this word is that it has been overused and twisted to the point that “process” has lost its core meaning. Recently it’s been used in the context of relaxed, leisurely, no commitment, maybe-or-maybe-not, fun-first-seeing-later, I-need-my-latte mindset while venturing out with a camera. In fact, if you approach the craft of photography seriously (another dirty word!) and focus on observation, seeing and light with the objective of creating strong imagery . . . well you’re not cool enough! After all, you should be “enjoying the process.”
Trust me, I do! Every day I walk my dog and I do enjoy the process. Each morning I get a cup of coffee at my favourite place and yes, I do enjoy the process. However, when I pick up a camera and start feeling and observing the world around me, my objective is to capture great imagery. Last time I checked, the definition of photography hasn’t changed – Wikipedia defines it as the “practice of creating durable images.” So it is about creating images after all.
Those who stopped reading above this line are probably preparing their first salvo: What’s the point of photographing if you don’t enjoy the process!? Well, there is a serious flaw in this type of reasoning! The assumption that somehow you need to be in a happy, relaxed and blissful state while taking photos is somehow not convincing, if not far-fetched.
Yes, for most people that’s how they feel and that’s okay. I often feel this way too. However, there are others who get creative, pure and honest, not necessarily in their eternal-happiness moments. In fact, while going through the history of art, music, photography you will quickly find out that the best work was often created in moments of anxiety, internal tension, confusion, fear or even depression. Don’t get me wrong! I am not a masochist who would promote such a state of mind. I am just acknowledging that some people get most creative while under pressure, feeling tense and challenged.
Trent Parke, a famous Australian photographer describes it this way: “I’m always ‘wired’, always awake, things are always rattling through my mind” and “The whole time I’m looking, everything is stopping and forming into still frames.” He describes this state of awareness as “being manic, insane.” This doesn’t sound to me like a relaxed, laissez-faire, I-don’t-care-about-images fellow.
Munch’s anxiety and hallucinations led to one of his best-known paintings, The Scream. In his book Tortured Artists, the journalist Christopher Sara said, “In the end, I’m convinced, it all starts with the same thing: a shot of intractable unpleasantness, bubbling to the surface from deep within a tortured soul.”
Ouch! Quite dark, isn’t it? Trust me, I am trying to stay as far away as I can from the commonly-parroted portrait of a suffering artist. I prefer unhinged, insatiable or unruly – take your choice!
Just recently I was a guest on the Fujilove Podcast (also make sure to subscribe to a very informative Fujilove Magazine here) and Tomasz asked me a very important question about how I deal with dark periods in my photography.
For years I have been looking for an answer to this dilemma. However, with time I’ve learnt to embrace such phases of not-seeing. With time I noticed they somehow help me to get creative, to become hungry for new visuals. I learnt that it is fine to be dissatisfied with my own work and try to reach for the unknown. These difficult periods made me a better photographer!
To summarize, your emotions, happiness, sadness, peace or anxiety –are all part of you – and they should become an important part of your seeing. Don’t be afraid to use your mood, honeyed or not, to observe, see and create. And never, ever use the mantra “enjoy the process” as an excuse. After all, if you are a photographer, great imagery should always be your goal.
Here are our latest visual explorations from the streets of Vancouver as seen through the X100F viewfinder.
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