In the last few months I had the privilege of meeting many interesting photographers and visual thinkers – some well-known, others pioneering new ideas and imagery away from the spotlight of social media.
One theme that often entered our conversations was the idea of “destination” or “balance” in photography. In other words, we tried to answer the question whether it was possible to reach a state of photographic being, when one felt the most creative, productive and satisfied with their work. Does such a place exist? If it does, is it a good place to be?
There are two distinct viewpoints.
First, some photographers argue that the best way to approach photography is to find a sort of balance. That would be a state of mind which is comfortable and attuned to seeing and enjoying photography. It is a place, once reached, that a photographer doesn’t want to leave. Some go even further and argue that once a photographer achieves such visual bliss, it should be embraced and nurtured. Imagery produced in this state is in the comfort zone of the photographer and is usually popular and well-regarded by a wide audience. There is no question that such an approach has a broad appeal and a sweetness to it which is difficult to refuse.
The second way of approaching the craft of seeing is much more tumultuous and difficult to define. For the sake of argument let’s describe it as out-of-balance. Interestingly, as I talk to many great photographers and observe their work, it appears to me that this state manifests itself in visual risk-taking, trying new ideas and even encompassing photographic genres. It is a constant struggle within and without. It is a much harder way forward, as the rate of setbacks and failure is significantly higher than in a more balanced approach.
Those of you who follow my work will probably guess where my seeing belongs, or rather where it wants to belong 🙂 There is no question that sometimes I feel my photography is balanced and healthy – and it feels good. However, that’s just the problem. – at least for me personally. Every time I enter this sweet zone, my seeing becomes muted, repetitive and flat even though the images may well be popular. It feels as though I am experiencing visual suffocation. The longer I linger in this stage, the more the lack of creative oxygen gets me lots of approved and well-regarded but insipid imagery. The other way to think about this conjecture is to imagine walking along the edge. On your right, you have the firm ground of great, known and popular imagery and on the left, you are on the edge of an unknown abyss. You want to explore but you must do so carefully or you will fall. Somehow, I have been enjoying walking on this edge with all the consequences and fears. Yes, those who prefer this approach stumble more often than others who walk on more solid ground but they often find visuals that can only be found on the very edges of seeing. This is exactly where there is a small opening for creativity.
Please don’t confuse creativity with the process of taking an image. Just by holding your camera and pointing in certain direction doesn’t make us creative, as much as some photographers like to call themselves creatives all the time. Creativity happens rarely and usually becomes apparent long after the process of seeing and crafting the image is completed (on a personal note, I’m rarely able to craft an image which I could comfortably call creative).
To summarize, these two approaches are quite distinct. Can you identify your visual approach? What’s your favourite? Are you feeling safe and secure in your seeing? Have you ever tried to walk on the edges of seeing?
Today, I would like to share with you some imagery taken during my recent trip to Washington, DC, where I was shooting with Patrick Malone, a noble man and a dear friend. All imagery was taken with the X100F.
…and some in colour
Thank you to all who purchased my book “Seeing Simplified.” I am really overwhelmed with your positive response. I am also grateful for the reviews so many of you have sent me. Feel flattered!
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