A theme is what you see in your mind, not in your viewfinder. A single exposure is unlikely to capture the full potential of a certain motif. If you are able to see beyond the image framed by your viewfinder or GG on a given occasion, and you strive to portray what you have seen in your mind in its completeness, a body of work will emerge with a common theme.
The question that arises in my mind is, "What is the difference between "Style" and "Theme". A 'serial' body of work may well exhibit interests in a particular subject, and stability in the approach toward that subject; but that is at the immediate cost of of the perception of the lack of flexibility.
It is a good idea to take a moment and decided whether you want to stress stability, constancy, and the skill associated with a particular "theme", of If you want to exhibit a wide versatility at the cost of being seen as "mercurial".
If the gallery mandates or accepts a body of work as a theme, all well and good. This is common: Name of Artist in the Exhibition titled "The Geysers of Iceland".
Ed Sukach, FFP.
One other place to notice this trend is in bookstores on the photography shelf. Most of the books are about a single subject. The most well-thumbed ones are the books of nudes, whether in the "erotic" vein or in the "artistic" vein. And there are a lot of them now by women about women. There's the usual place-theme books, based on geographic location. And a spate of books by famous and not-so-famous photographers of celebrity pics. Hey, if you're connected in the world of glitz and want to make some fast money, put out an artsy sartsy series of black and white shots of famous people. Be sure to include one of Madonna, as I think she's considered "de riguer" these days.
OK, I'm done with that rant. But it's true that well-known photographers can publish (or it's published posthumously) a range of work, while the up and comers, so to speak, publish theme books. Personally, if I'm cruising the photo shelf at the Barnes and Noble, I'd be very interested in some totally unknown photg's work, even if the subject matter was all over the map. But I'm a photographer, and I enjoy the medium no matter what (if it's what I consider well done - my opinion only!) and the average book-buyer most likely doesn't have an educated eye, and leans more toward WHAT is being presented than how, or in which medium or style.
Of interest, a very well written article-Sandra S. Phillips is senior curator of photography at SFMOMA
Jan. 2005 Art in America...
Adams and Stieglitz: A Friendship by Sandra S. Phillips, includes info on the prints sent to Stieglitz by Adams for his first New York show at "An American Place"
Also documents his first portfolios and first public shows....
Don't forget that the series could cover quite a wide range of subjects. I have a beautiful Taschen book in my collection called "Paris Mon Amour" where the series is basically all images shot in Paris. It describes itself as a "Homage to the worlds most beautiful city", so don't think of your series too narrowly.
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Do you think it would be okay to create a portfolio series on a process, rather then a theme? For example, a series of all 8x10 azo contact prints.
Ryan, are you are thinking of what is referred to as a "museum set" which is representative of the broad spectrum of the artist's career--- Something like E. Weston's 50th anniversary portfolio? Since the individual pictures represent the photographer’s cohesive vision, they would not be considered random pictures.
Generally, no one really cares about the process when viewing a portfolio. They care about the importance of each picture and the relationship between the pictures. I think that the process should be consistent throughout the portfolio for the sake of unity. But, I don’t think process should be the basis of a portfolio.
Like a portfolio, a book should be more than a collection of random pictures.
I can assure you that the Tuscany books were born from finished photographs that were intended to simply be seen as individual pictures. They did not “do a series to make a book.”
Originally Posted by RyanMcIntoshPhoto
So, just what does make a series? I can only think that a series is summed from individually made pictures. The series comes into being as the pictures are made.
A series can sometimes be nothing more than a body of work that was made in the same place or with the same subject (be that a single window or Route 66). Sometimes a series can simply be as few as five or six pictures that, in some way, “go together”. From a series, single images can, and should, be able to stand alone. That, however, does not remove them from the whole. Within the series certain pictures might not be “as strong” as some of the others but they might remain in existence to help unify the series.
What is most important for a photographer is to work for the sake of working. I would not go out photographing with the intention of making a book, or a portfolio, or anything other than making a picture. Then, when each picture is made just for the sake of that picture, personal visual characteristics will begin to emerge and a cohesive vision will be recognized by the person viewing your finished photographs.
When showing your work to someone, especially if you want them to buy or give you a show, it is important that they see you are serious and that they remember you. If you do a lot of work that is consistently good the viewer will pick up your coherent vision and will simply see that you are serious. Most photographers who are remembered are remembered for doing something, which is usually thought of, or referred to as a “project” (try thinking of a photographer that just made a bunch of random pictures.) The “something”for which they are remembered could be many things or projects. But, think of Carl Chiarenza and you think of abstract photographs of foil and paper assemblages. Think of Emmit Gowan or William Garnett and you will think of photographs made from the air. Think of Ansel Adams and you will think of the grand landscape. This could go on and on, but there is something they all have in common. The photographers made each picture just for the sake of making it and their body of work naturally evolved and developed into a whole.
There is a considerable difference in doing work within a "theme" and concentrating on a specific subject. A theme is something that can be seen and reflected on after a good deal of work has been done by the artist, usually after many years of working spontaneously and organically . I believe “style” can be thought of as something similar to “vision”. “Style” though, seems to sound superficial. Whereas “vision” is something that is looked upon as a naturally-developed visual and conceptual concern. Those could more accurately be called aesthetic concerns.
Brett Weston can be remembered by his work in San Francisco or New York City. Or, he could more easily be remembered for his landscape and close-up work. Those four things previously mentioned are simply areas or subjects with which he worked and should not be confused with the common “theme” of his work, abstraction.
I think your understanding seems pretty good. The issue here is not what's right or wrong; or even what's best, but what works for what purpose. I think you'd find it really tough to break into the gallery market or get a first monograph published today without demonstrating a style/look as well as some form of unifying theme behind the images. Whether that's right or wrong, simple observation will confirm its veracity, and I even think that approach would help a lot in submissions to stock libraries; and the better magazines. I don't even think you'd get a higher level RPS distinction in the UK with an eclectic panel.
Of course if none of these things interest you then it won't matter whether your own work follows these patterns or not. But it is a potentially interesting creative dimension and for me it beats wandering round the world making disparate images that I happen to like at the time. It means that part of the creative process is beyond cameras and printing. That's a good thing and signifies a broadening, not a paucity of imagination.
Seems like all the relevant points have been covered on this topic. Good discussion. I have a show coming up this August. It will be a series of photographs made in a specific location (see the Carpenter Portfolio on my website).
I have found projects the easiest way to work for me because my career and education (engineering) are based on projects. The concepts of planning and execution are the same in both professional and artistic lives. It's just the subject matter that changes.
I have assembled a "greatest hits" project ("Fifty" - also on the web site), but basically I am not ready for a career retrospective - yet...
Except for retrospectives of established artists or vanity micropublishers, I don't think you ever have seen such books -- even as far back as Fox-Talbot.
Originally Posted by RyanMcIntoshPhoto