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  1. #1

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    Finding your subject. How?

    Increasingly, I'm finding the photography I look at mostly interests me aesthetically/artistically. On only one occasion have I actually thought "that is what I want to photograph" when looking at work.
    The photographer in question made formal studies of intimate landscapes, but I've since realised that subjectively, it was his unique geology (often in exotic places) that interested me - which, as defeatist as it sounds, isn't something my part of the country is known for. I spent some time seeking out geological oddities - but only made odd pictures - and eventually became restless and disenchanted with the natural landscape altogether.

    As some might have gathered from my previous threads, I'm caught between a rock (no pun intended) and a hard place photographically.

    Since my move away from the natural scene I've been interested in the New Topographics and more modern work of that lineage - mostly large format colour.
    I'm coming to the same painful conclusion; that this simply isn't my forte. It has only led to fruitless and empty aesthetic explorations. As mentioned in another thread, when looking at my recent negatives, I'm just thinking "what the hell did I SEE!?"

    My subjective conflict, summed up, is essentially this:
    In my heart of hearts I feel investigating the medium is what interests me ultimately - I don't mean endlessly playing with paper and chemicals, but work which is about photographic seeing. Think Kertesz, Callahan, Eggleston and Raymond Moore (for those Brits who are familiar). But then there's 'documentary style' work (think Walker Evans, Paul Strand's later work and Alec Soth as a modern example). This kind of photography has a certain nobility, a straightforward, direct and dare I say, humanitarian approach which attracts me - subjective seeing, yet artful in construct. I'll get some flak for this, but quite simply, I live in a lifeless place. I'm uninspired by what I see.

    But how did you find your subject? Some, I'm assuming, will say they didn't think about it, that it was just intuition - but what if your intuition works against your better judgement!? What if it's wrong? By that I mean - leading to pictures only you understand or care about. I said in a recent post that making photographs to 'share' is a dead end, but what I do think is of absolute importance is connecting. For that, you have to find some striking universality in your subject. And I guess to find that, you have to be looking in places that you connect with. I'm still not sure I've found that. Where is it?

    In short, do you ever feel like you're just making compositions, as opposed to photographs?
    Last edited by batwister; 03-07-2013 at 10:32 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    'Cows are very fond of being photographed, and, unlike architecture, don't move.' - Oscar Wilde

  2. #2

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    Keep in mind this is just my opinion and its meant to be helpful.

    No one can really give you the answer, the answer must come from inside. The problem is you don't trust your intuition.
    If your work does not come from your own intuition then the work isn't honest, if the work isn't honest its basically meaningless.
    I believe you might live in a place that is not the right place for you, if your work is important, move.
    Stop striving for universal appeal, honest work will find its audience, even if small they will be loyal.
    Stop thinking about it, don't look for answers in the work of others, don't look at their work period until you start to find
    your own way. Put away the camera for a while and just look, look with your intuition, just experience your surroundings. Try this for a while, you will know when its time to photograph again. Good Luck!

  3. #3

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    Something like that will come to you, naturally. You can't really force it upon yourself.

    My images tend to have strong emotional component - be it landscape or portraiture. What's what I see in a lot of things and that's what I tend to photograph. When asked, I usually say my favorite area is portraiture but that's not exactly correct. I found this by looking back on my photographs in the past few years. It was also prompted by a photographer I respect and admire stating, "you seem to have a good eye for composition. You seem to be photographing what looks good, but I don't see a continuing theme."

    I am not an activist photographer where I seek to find subjects to make statements. I tend to photograph subjects that interest me WITH emotional component. That's what I do... since I am not selling my work, that's enough for me.
    Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?

  4. #4
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    I slowly came to realize that light was my subject, the landscape is where I want to be...
    and that by working those two aspects together, I am slowly learning how to see.

    Some changes have thrust themselves into my work, triplet boys will tend to do that.
    I don't change for the sake of change, but as time goes on, we'll see where I am at.
    At least with LF landscape, a bad day of photography can still be a good day of exercise.

  5. #5
    Shawn Dougherty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaughn View Post
    I slowly came to realize that light was my subject, the landscape is where I want to be...
    and that by working those two aspects together, I am slowly learning how to see.
    I'm with Vaughn. Light is my subject and it's always the right light to photograph something... So, I put myself someplace I feel like being at the moment, be it urban or rural, and start looking at whatever sparks my emotions or feelings. Often times I just begin exploring on the ground glass and see what happens.

  6. #6
    Rick A's Avatar
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    Stop looking at other peoples work and comparing yourself to them. You are the only you there is, so embrace your uniqueness. It is okay to occasionally vue other artists work to get "inspiration" but you really need to dig deep into yourself for what you want to portray to others through your work.
    Rick A
    Argentum aevum

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick A View Post
    Stop looking at other peoples work
    This is so true.

    s-a
    I photograph things to see what things look like photographed.
    - Garry Winogrand

  8. #8

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    Finding my subject matter wasn't difficult. It was there all along. Resolving to go with it and leave more widely appealing stuff, composition etc. behind was difficult.

  9. #9
    Ken Nadvornick's Avatar
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    Analysis paralysis?

    Ken
    "They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you."

    — Diane Arbus, March 15, 1971, in response to a request for a brief statement about photographs

  10. #10
    cliveh's Avatar
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    Have you thought about taking up drawing for 6 months? I don't mean that in a sarcastic way, but when you return to photography, it may give you an added incentive to see what you are looking for.

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

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