On Being a Photographer [Part 1]

Date Published: 8/26/2011
Category: Straight Takes

So You want to be ….

When I started photography, it was merely for past time sake. There were many photographers, I wanted to emulate. I started buying many books and reading them, hoping it can teach me a thing or two, such as how to capture a beautiful image out a mediocre or mundane subject. And I was trying to learn how the fundamental characteristics of the medium of photography can be employed for more effective grown as an image maker. And how to think and act like a photographer.

How to think and act like a photographer?

I wish to share with all of you; it is about how to think and acts like a photographer, gathered from practical experiences and from the lives of many fine photographers of the past and present. I have decided to concentrate on one of the many approaches to the medium of photography in order to discover some of basic principles which can be employed by all photographers in whatever band of the photographic spectrum they reside.

Where you stand and when you press the shutter

As photographers, we know the chosen tool for understanding life and communicating the results of our search to others is the camera. As a photographer, you only have two fundamental controls, where you stand and when you press the shutter. Both are very subjective choices so the end result, the picture, is bound to be equally subjective.

The camera is first a means of self discovery and a means of self growth.
~ Minor White

What it takes to be photographer? 

Photography’s core characteristic is to show what something looked like. I think this is an important point because many photographers seem fascinated with the medium yet have no idea what to photograph. You are not a photographer because you are interested in photography. 
Many people are interested in photography in some ambiguous way; they might be interested in the lives of top fashion, or war photographers; or in the collection and admiration of beautiful, functional machines, the cameras, or in the ritual of the darkroom process; or in the assumed role which they could adopt if only they took pictures like… so and so.  But these interests, no matter how personally enjoyable they might be, never lead to the person becoming a photographer.

The camera is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion into something

The reason is that photography is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion into something else. It is not the end result. To give you a comparison, would be to buy a car for its status appeal, for the idea that it will improve your image, for the fascination with its beautiful engineering, to look good, and so.

Nevertheless, it is useless unless it actually takes you somewhere.

So where do I start?

Many would ask the questions;  How to account for the ways photography can fascinate for a life time? How can it be such a rewarding medium for makers and viewers? What is it about photography that sustains the interest? Is it simply a matter of compulsive repetitions of images? The answers are to be found less within the medium but in its status as recorder.  It cannot help but documenting or recording things however abstract, theatrical, artificial or contentions that documentation may be. The meaning of photography is intimately bound up with the meaning of the world it records. I would put it even more downright: “The magic of photography is that it is the object which does all the work”. Alternatively, perhaps, at times, it does not do quite all the work, but certainly, photography without subject matter is unimaginable.

If any of you have been visiting exhibitions, looking at pictures taken by different photographers, long enough, you will realize that some pictures are obviously more interesting, more beautiful more inspiring than others, even of the same subject matter. They are permanently stamped with a unique style of the individuals who made them. So what transforms these simple records into pictures of lasting merit? It simply comes down to the choice of subject. 

A photograph is a secret about a secret. 
~Diane Arbus

Subject Matter

It is clear to me that in order to photograph with any degree of continuous passion, one must have a fascination for the subject matter, or other wise you cannot sustain an interest in the act of creation for a long enough period of time in which to make any insightful or original statement about it.

When the subject takes precedence, you not only start the journey towards a personal style but also you discover the sheer joy of visually responding to the world. 

The  reason for a young photographer’s confusion is that most teachers, classes, workshops, books, whatever, imply that how the picture is made, what techniques were employed, why it looks different and artistic, is more important than the subject matter. If one looks into the history of photography is primary the history of the subject matter.

In making photographs, two things are important above all others – the subject matter and you. Photographs are what happen when you and the subject matter meet, and you use the camera to describe the meeting. A photograph is a visual description of the relationship between the subject matter and the photographer; and a good photograph is one which clearly shows the character of the subject while disclosing the photographer’s respond to it. 

My photography is the best way I know of bring me closer to some of the mysteries of existence.  
~ Wynn Bullock

If you think of a photograph in this way, you’ll find your personal direction as a photographer emerging and becoming clearer. Sometimes it takes a while to understand what’s happening and to decide upon what you expect from the relationship. Good relationships require a lot of time, give and take and a lot of hard work. But the process of coming to know yourself through interaction with someone or something else is very satisfying. In the end, you get the picture of both of you. 

In some photographs the subject is everything and the photographer’s task is to reveal its essence as accurately as possible. The photographer must struggle to keep his own preconceptions from blocking out the truth.

In other photographs the subject is unimportant in itself, but is important as a symbol or a tool for disclosing how the photographer thinks and feels. In these images, subject matter is like a chunk of clay, you mold it however you want.

When you are in your early years of photography, you properly tend to lean in one direction sometimes and in the other direction just as often, properly without ever thinking much about it. You occupy a middle ground, which is not a bad place to be, but your photographic point of view does need to be examined if you want to achieve results, which satisfy you. 

To be continued...