A few weeks ago, I came across a fascinating article by Don Craig, a photographer and friend from Victoria, British Columbia, titled “Articulate.” Although most of the piece deals with the medium format GFX, Don raised an issue I found most interesting. The leading thought was “striving to be fluent, effective, persuasive, lucid and expressive.”
When reading Don’s piece, I remembered our discussion about photography, which centred around the question “What are we looking for in photography?” At one point Don said, “I would like to have something to say” (I hope I remember the exact quote – Don please correct me if I am wrong). He certainty hit the right note, as a similar thought has been hovering in my head for months.
When working with students and discussing their imagery, one of the questions I sometimes ask them is: “Why did you take this photo?” Quite often I hear “I don’t know.” This is a big problem with photography, including my own! It is so easy to take photos that we stop thinking why we are doing it. It becomes a habit, an addiction of a sort. I know I am going against the common wisdom of “take as many images as you can to get better” but I strongly believe that shooting just for the sake of it can actually hurt you as a photographer.
I refer to the pressure from social media to deliver a constant flow of imagery to be consumed, viewed, liked, shared and commented. One problem with this mentality is that all parties involved are so occupied with the next image to share that they find the long-term photographic, content-rich photographic projects too slow, time consuming and boring. After all, if done right, such projects require a huge time commitment, research, dedication and resources. The worst part is they don’t provide instant gratification. Results are only visible after years of researching, planning and shooting. It is much easier to take a photo of something on the street, run it through a filter or a pre-set and get a daily dose of nice comments from people you know.
There is no question that long-term, documentary-style projects are out of fashion. But there is more. Such in-depth work would make a photographer less visible and less marketable for a while (when working on a project). I always wonder if Robert Frank and his mega project “The Americans” would find traction in today’s world of photography. I’m not sure.
Many of us working photographers face the pressure of providing for our families, making sure we are out there. We all try to market something, whether it is a book, workshop or other product (some people pretend it is all about sharing but they are ultimately trying to sell you something). This is part of life and there is nothing wrong with it. Having said that, it is important to dedicate some of our resources and zest to long-term projects. This is where we can articulate something with our photography and make an impact. For my part I have certainly not been doing enough and I know I have to change things (the big one is coming)!
I urge you to shout less with your photography but articulate more. After all, your photo, even if it is a masterpiece, will eventually fall from the fast-paced social media conveyer into the box of “forgotten” along with all the others. Instead, find a subject, theme, people or stories close to your heart and work on photography that lasts. Take your time. Make a book, write a story. No, it won’t provide you with your daily adrenaline from likes and shares but it will make your photography articulate and lasting.
Let’s stop shouting with our photography – it’s becoming so noisy that we can’t hear a thing. Instead, let’s try to say something with our photography or as Don said, “articulate.”
If you are working on a long-term, photography-related project, let me know. I will be happy to link to your best work on this blog.
In the meantime, we recently visited two fishing communities, the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay and the Quileute Tribe in La Push. Fascinating people and places! Imagery taken with the Fujifilm GFX50S, GF 120mm F2 and GF 32-64mm F4.
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