This week I watched the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, it’s on Netflix and I would highly recommend it! Through watching it I came to some conclusions regarding photography that I have been seeking for some time now, mainly, the affirmation that the realness and ‘actual momentness’ of her photography was the exact thing I hoped to capture myself, the greatest reason why portrait photography including weddings, engagements, senior portraits, family portraits, etc, never felt fulfilling to me.
I was initially struck by the style and fashion of her photography, I believe perhaps most supplied by her shooting with film, as being one that really enhanced the story being told. It made me wonder if the digitalized, pretty edits of many of today’s photographs actually distract at times from the story being told because you could mostly see just that, the pretty. This thought may rely heavily on the notion of my generation that many retro/dated things can be more authentic sometimes, but it was one that I wanted to explore nonetheless. My hope is to begin shooting actual film, but the budget is not quite in favor of that effort at this point, however I would not be deterred in the moment and the concept began forming in my mind of continuing to shoot with my digital camera and then very intentionally editing the photos in a film/old style to see if it made them communicate something different than if they were edited in the bright or ‘pretty’ way that I would normally edit.
Along with the style of Vivian Maier’s work I also observed a sense of reality. As a portrait photographer you are generally expected to not choose the ‘in between shots’ as I call them, but rather the ones that are as near perfect, to you and the client, as you can get them. It’s less about showing the reality and more about showing the best. To be clear, capturing the best, or wanting your best captured, is not something I hold against photographers and subjects. It’s a natural desire and also part of photography in general as you work to compose and capture things in a way that is pleasing to the eye. However, my core is fascinated with the in between photographs and I just couldn’t escape the sense of freedom and determination by which Vivian seemed to be able to capture the moments that no client would pay someone to capture. My love for this style puts me in an interesting position as it doesn’t provide much support by photography to make money many times a very practical push to keep photographing and learning, clients don’t come readily when you don’t promise pretty, but I just can’t be moved in my desire to pursue the concept so I have to rely on my resolve alone to discover and shoot more, something I have grown out of practice with since my self-portrait days.
During the age of self-portraits I would shoot constantly, my drive pushed me to be more creative and I loved that age of inspiration so terribly much. As I grew older however I began to get more concise with my photography. I began to grow tired of creating so many moments and wanted to simply capture what moments were already happening. I began a blog and documented years through it with the help of photography, but then even that began to feel like too much, how many daily moments really needed to be captured anyway? I began to lose my footing with photography even more and eventually just let it be whatever I wanted it to be when I felt like it, no overall structure or drive, just momentary inspiration. I don’t think it was a bad thing to do, it brought many years of creative confusion for me as I pondered over and over what my thoughts were on the subject. I believe I needed, and perhaps still need some more of, that confusion though because it’s allowing me to be inspired by what naturally inspires me instead of just the specific things I believe inspiration were drawn from that I kept interacting with and consequently giving me actual, internally solidified, thoughts and conclusions about photography as it pertains to me and my intentions.
All of these thoughts pushed me to begin a personal project and space of photography evaluation, still private as of yet because there is no theme to it, perhaps supplying some confusion to someone simply observing it, for me though it’s a study of portraits I’ve taken and will continue to take and how I feel about them, an effort to capitalize on this clarity of thought I’ve gained through watching the documentary.
In conclusion, I have a question for you. Consider the photographs above if you will and really consider them. Look at them one at a time. Look at the light. Look at the faces. And tell me, do you feel that they tell a different story? Do you feel the authenticity of the moment in the same way through both, or does one make you feel something more? Do the different edits change your perception of the people in the photographs at all? Do you envy or idealize one more than the other? Would you say you are distracted by either edit in some way? Or are they simply two different edits, each supplying the same message?