A whole bunch of years ago when Andre Agassi still played tennis, Canon had a marketing campaign that was “Image is Everything”. In the case of photography, that couldn’t be more true. Our goal as a photographer is to communicate our passion through image. What are the things that resonate within us? Just like music seeks to make an emotional connection with its audience, photography needs to do the same. No one says a song is great because they used only Gibson guitars, same thing with photography. Nikon, Canon doesn’t matter. Even your phone is your most important piece of equipment if that is what you have on you. And here’s a newsflash, no one is going to connect with you an emotional level because of the ISO or f-stop. Those are tools and only tools are obsessed with tools.
When most of us started our path in photography, it was what I call “photojournalism urges”. We took photographs to remind of places we’ve been, people we met, things we’ve seen. To record those images because they were special to us. Think of how many pictures parents take of their kids. Their kids are important to them and they want documentation of those memories. If this was Maslow’s pyramid, this would be the most basic of needs that photography serves.
As we continued our journey (and photography is a journey not a destination), we discovered that we wanted to share images with others that communicated to an audience. Like music, photography is a medium that is created by individuals but only effective when it is shared with others. At this stage in our journey we started to get serious about photographing subjects we were extremely passionate about. Parents take note, you can be very passionate about your children still, but that passion will often not translate to others because others do not have the emotional investment in your kids that you have.
Sadly at this stage many get lost in what I call the “swimsuit/sunset” stage. Because women in swimsuits are “beautiful” (truely they are), how do you take a bad photo when the subject is beautiful, they get stymied into a creative prison of photographing the same things others have pre-ordained as beautiful. In Buddhism, these are the people that meditate because everyone else meditates and they still haven’t found the benefits that come from using meditation as a tool to unlock potential. While these pictures, are technically awesome and the subject matter is something that has been identified within society as awesome, the picture is going to be awesome too. This gets boring fast. I always admire photographers, that take things seemingly “not beautiful” such as abandoned buildings suffering years of neglect or circus freaks and photograph them and find the beauty within their subject matter. Because that is where we approach what I called “transcendental photography”.
By complete chance, I happen to live with a talented photographer who grasped the essence of her photography early on. Her photographs communicate such a “joie de vivre” and joyfullness that reflect “who she is” and her inner self. In one of her photos, she simply photographed a bowl of oatmeal, but that picture captured the warmth and feeling of home more than anything I’ve remembered. In one image she communicates, who she is, what makes her happy and how she feels (with a food snapshot!). In the photojournalism world, these would be the photographs that completely resonate with us on an emotional level forever, there is a visual que within them that activates the audiences ability to relate to the image on an “emotional level” and once you’re emotionally vested in someone else work, that’s where the real potential and magic of photography begin.
So my journey has taken me to a place where I try to find the image in everything and nothing. Subject matter has almost become irrelevant. I even used photography as a community building tool vs. a medium. Part of my personal journey with the camera was finding images that would trigger memories of childhood terrors (i.e. the branches in the trees and knotholes that would come alive, I would find aliens and scary stuff in fuseboxes and junkpiles). That led to one day looking at the pictures of car engines in Motor Trend and realizing that they were missing the beauty and art found within the engine, so I started photographing car engines, which helped me explore my potential in a non-conventional subject matter. One of the best compliments I get, is we really see your Zen practice in your photography, because for me, photography has become a form of meditation for me
Finally, photography is a personal journey. No one can tell you the path it should take, because it’s about your passions and your experiences and mostly YOUR POTENTIAL to explore and nurture.