an essay on photography by the photographer

IMG_5177I don’t want to shoot engagements, weddings and family portraits all my life.

Because, most of all, people want to look pretty in them, and there is an unspoken standard of production on those kinds of shoots that I find myself consistently pushing back from.

I started photography years ago with simple and sporadic life documentation, but I knew there was an intentionality and creativity missing from those photographs.

I continued with self-portraits, which is a phase that I completely fell in love with and to this day remember it as being one of the most creative and exciting photography outlets I’ve ever experienced, however, after awhile I grew tired of the over documentation of my image and my limited capabilities by not being completely behind the lens.

I moved forward into more client shoots, engagements, senior portraits, weddings, family portraits and while I found them to be busy, exciting and rewarding in their own way, I still felt the lack of control weigh on my hopes for the photographs. I knew people wanted my style, but I also knew they wanted the classic portraits that they would want to hang up in their homes and I always felt the need to shut down parts of my desire for creativity for the sake of classic portraiture.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of clean and classic portraiture. I think that it has a place in photography that will never be forgotten, because a classic portrait is a special kind of memory and one worth taking.

But it wasn’t one I wanted to keep taking.

I once took a personality test that said with my result I was the kind of person that was passionate and hardworking, but also one that deeply resisted working on things that didn’t interest me.

I think that thoroughly applies to my photography.

I know what kinds of photographs I don’t want to continue taking, but I am still searching for the clarity on what kinds of photos I do want to take and considering the timing of when I should capture them.

But that means that I don’t want to fill the void of photography will photographs I am disinterested in. I would rather let the camera sit. I want to find the focus I am searching for with photography, because I do believe it is more a part of me than any other thing I’ve ever pursued.

I do know one thing. Portraits are my passion.

Faces, bodies, and expression are so enthralling to me, and I crave the ability to capture them clearly, even without the subject realizing their own honesty at times.

I want to manipulate and control the portraits, but I want to elicit truth as well.

It is a fine balance, but one I have found I lack the ability to produce in still lifes, landscapes, and other areas of photography.

My desire for control in my photography is an interesting flame to my passion because it requires so much from the subject.

I’ve had many people offer over the years for me to photograph them, which I always appreciated and felt encouraged by, but also always felt that I couldn’t be sure how willing the subjects really were. I know people like to feel pretty, to look pretty, to be proud of their bodies and their looks, and I don’t think my intention would ever be to make them feel ugly at all. But I wanted the freedom to know I could make them look terrible in the process of finding what made them look the most authentic and that they would still trust my vision despite the process.

I’m not sure people understand fully what it means for a photographer to choose a subject. A subject needs to be so much more than a pretty face, or a supposedly good body, they have to be completely willing.

And those kinds of subjects are few and far in between, because it takes a very courageous person to leave all of their hopes for their appearance in photographs behind and fully attach themselves to the vision of the photographer.

The process of a shoot isn’t glamorous or even fun all the time, it’s slow moving and a step by step process to closing in on the place, the pose, and the emotion that fulfills the vision and purpose of the shoot.

And despite how difficult it sounds, it can be the easiest step by step process you’ve ever encountered, if the subject is willing to walk with the photographer as they understand better the focus.

I expect a lot from photography. From myself as the photographer and from the subject.

Many people have suggested I shoot more candid portraits of people, but I feel like there is such an opportunity for the subject to experience the unique vulnerability that comes with being photographed that it would be a shame to lose that in the experience.

I once watched an interview with Annie Leibovitz where she spoke about photographing her mother. She said it was a difficult thing to do because her mother, who was in her mid to late 70’s at the time, didn’t want to look old. It is actually more difficult to take pictures of family members and close friends, because they tend to close themselves off a bit more in the process due to their own expectations and hopes for the portrait outcome. Annie noted that it was only once the photographs had received positive attention and praise that the mother changed her mind and decided she did like the photographs. It is a rich example of how a subject, while still concerned about her appearance, trusted the photography to capture her vision and also move forward with the photograph of her choosing despite it not being the subjects favorite.

In the end, where there is not a trust between the subject and the photographer, than the result can never be what it could have been.

My passion for my subjects is to make them understand the value in their everyday look. When we interact with people we interact with them from every angle. We don’t just see people in profile, or in a certain pose or stance. And I love searching for the appearance that depicts an authenticity that speaks out of the subject’s confidence in their appearance as well as a uniqueness in the capture. I don’t want my subjects concerned with looking old, or fat, or tired, or ugly. I want them to be concerned with smiling as much as possible, enjoying the moment, shifting their outfit or their hair like they would normally do and truly understand that, almost every time, the best photographs come out of the most natural moments and, I believe, it is in those moments that people should be most appreciated and most photographed.

It is all well and good for people’s bests to be praised, but the reality is we are at our average far more than we are at our best, and I want to learn how to rejoice in the average and the real just as much as our best.

I wonder if it could be possible.

2 thoughts on “an essay on photography by the photographer

  1. “but the reality is we are at our average far more than we are at our best…” I absolutely love you pointing out that truth. I feel like it’s a truth that almost all of us, even me, don’t want to believe. I think we have such a rejection to this truth that, despite what we say in consciousness, it’s so deeply engrained in our subconscious that we don’t realize how not-okay we are with our average until we feel validated in our consciousness by onlookers. It takes a lot of surrender to truly see our raw beauty. I’m really excited to see what you find when you can capture it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more!! And the whole ‘it’s so deeply engrained in our subconscious’ is possibly the most difficult aspect to fight against in both this aspect and so so many others in life!


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