If I asked you right now what your goal with your photography is, would you have an answer?
I’ve been thinking lately about what my motivations behind taking photos is for me. Sometimes I feel like it’s nothing more than an impulse, taking pictures for pictures sake. Not even in an effort to document my experience of the moment, simply the physical action of taking the photo.
I don’t think I’m the only one either. I think that more than a few of us have defaulted to going through the motions, creating beautiful images that are devoid of any heart, or meaning.
Not that there’s anything wrong with beautiful images, but something inside is gnawing at me, whispering softly that it’s not enough, that we could be aspiring to, if not outright achieving so much more through our work.
So what are we aiming for?
Photography has long been something of a pariah in the world of serious art, the newcomer on the scene that has yet to find it’s place in the crowd. In a medium where the barriers to entry are practically nil, practically anyone can call themselves a photographer. And with digital images (arguably) becoming the default mode of conveyance for our images, we can all share our work with the world instantly, collecting likes, comments and followers on the way to a seriously inflated ego.
I don’t think the fact that anyone can call themselves a photographer is necessarily the reason why photography still often feels like it’s on the outside looking in to the world of serious artists and what their work stands for. I do think however that the ease with which we share our images and the visually polluted culture we live in might have something to do with it.
For example, no one would contend that painting is a serious form of art. Anyone can pick up a pencil or a set of paints and a sheet of paper or canvas. Just because anyone can draw or paint a scene doesn’t mean anyone will consider them a painter or an artist, nor would they probably consider themselves one.
Now I’m (definitely) not a painter, but my guess is that when an aspiring painter finishes a new piece, she doesn’t instantly upload it to five different social media platforms and wait for the thumbs up to fly.
I’m starting to think that one of the key factors that differentiates pros, real artists - of any craft - from the wannabes is the fact that the artists are striving for a grander vision with their work. The artist is aiming to move people, to evoke emotion, to affect change in society, bring people together, to tell a story that needs telling.
Maybe this is just grandiose thinking, but shouldn’t this be something we as photographers should be striving for? I bet you the greatest of the great
photographers, if you asked them, were not content to simply capture the world around them for the sake of creating a beautiful photograph. I’m pretty sure there was an idea, a vision behind each and every one of their finished prints, and that vision probably ran throughout their collected work.
For the record I don’t think that “satisfying our clients” is a valid vision for our work. I know we all need to do what we have to to make ends meet, keep the doors open and so on. And yes, I believe that if a client chooses to work with us it’s our duty to provide them with the best results we’re capable of, and giving them a positive, memorable experience, but I think at some point we need to cut out clients that don’t contribute to our vision as artists.
I believe that our vision is what should draw people to us. The story we tell through our craft should be bigger than one client. Sure that client may be a unique and vital thread, but it should be part of a rich and cohesive tapestry of art that speaks to our view of the world, both as it is, and as we would like it to be.
Is it too much to ask to dream bigger? To set the bar higher? To aspire to more through our work?
Am I the only one who want’s to change the world through my art?
I hope not.
So let’s do it, set our sights for the stars as see where the journey takes us.
And hey, if we fall short, we’re bound to come away with some pretty epic photographs.
What do you think? Can we as photographers change the world through our vision as artists and humans? How can we go about doing it? What do YOU hope to achieve through your work? Let me know in the comments.
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