I'm raising this question as it is the one thing that I have not been able to overcome in my Photography. I never attended Art School. All self taught with the help of several hunderd visits to museums and galleries. I have 100's if not thousands of good images taken with a view camera. The whole idea of focusing on a theme eludes me. Is there a good book or essay that someone could tell me about; so that I can overcome my fear of Themes? Is this the one concept that separates the greats from the has-beens? I mean all the gallery/museum shows that I see always have a theme. Is it just a question of focusing. Last week I attended a workshop. Who it was with is not important and it in no way was about critiquing photographs. But the teacher did say to me after looking at my photographs; "so what are you reaching for?" And he was right. I have lots of great images all over the map with no cohesiveness. I'm sure I'm not the only one in this dillemma. Any thoughts;comments appreciated.
Best, Peter Schrager
I know what you mean.
For me, it took me some years to realise that my 'theme' is my own life - I take my photograhy as some sort of diary of what happens to me.
Since I met my girlfriend with her two kids, I included the 'family' theme - trying to document our daily life and what's happening around us for the kids and their kids in the future.
I now look at my Dad's and Granddad's life and just wish they had something similar, as I have very little knowledge about their lifes - at least with my 'project' I can give a glimpse of my life to the people after me (if they are at all interested).
Since I am taking photographs with a purpose, my pictures have improved tremendously.
Themes can start off as simply images of subject matter you are familiar with and have axcess to . Trying to find the perfect image is very hard to do , frustrating and usually time wasting. Concentrate on what you have axcess to and know well.
I have started a couple of projects right here at my shop , since I am here all the time it is easy to photograph.
As well when I do have time off , I go to the boathouse , therefore I am doing a series of images there. I have been going to this paticular area of Ontario since I was a child and now I am photographing it each time I go back. I know every nook and cranny of this lake area so I just revisit my youth and make images.
From experience I would say that all my series of work have sprung from random images, which then led the direction, and culminated in various exhibitions. The secret is to define the corner points and boundaries to each piece of work then have fun making images.
As my work is nearly all landscape I decided on geographical boundaries. Some projects are still ongoing after 15 years :-)
I did have a book called "Achieving Photographic Style" but actually never really read it, will post it to you if you want.
A very good question
I can´t suggest any book, but try to look at www. lenswork.com and specially in the audio blog part. They are very interesting - at least from time to time - and you can order them on audio CD or listen them through internet.
I belive that "theme focusing" is critical part of photographers work.
Main points - I hope and would be glad if they inspire you in any positive way
- only theme focusing give you necessary concentration
- only theme focusing push you try to do the same thing again and again
- theme limitations push you energy to go deeper and deeper
- with theme you are not loosing your freedom - it is you who define what your theme is
- photography is an art od selection and theme point of view help grow up from random selection to the selection made by your inner order. and showing your inner order, your point of view - that is what the photography is about
-definition of your theme push you to think and articulate about your work, the order is build by words and definitions...
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Perhaps a single theme would be too limiting for you? I like to photograph what interests me without having to think of whether or not it fits into a preconceived category. I guess workshops and galleries like to see a cohesiveness of subject matter although I've never dealt with either, but its what makes YOU click that matters most. Just because your photographs appear all over the map doesn't mean there isn't a single inner theme that drives you to take them. It just may not be readily apparent to the outside observer, or maybe not even to yourself, but I bet its there.
I have the same problem Peter. I think part of that has come about with going to a camera club and there being a different theme every month. It makes it difficult for me to do a theme for any length of time (shooting LF).
In smaller formats, I do tend to shoot more at family gatherings, and though I would love to shoot some LF there too, it would be difficult.
I suspect that if you were to take the time to carefully study your work, concentrating on the images that you especially enjoy, you would perceive that there really are several distinguishable themes present. I know that in my work, I can identify themes retrospectively, but there's no way I would ever have recognized a conscious intention to go out to make images on those themes. Instead, as I go from place to place, I react to the scenes that present themselves to me, and make photographs of the ones that I like. There is a selection process involved in the decision to make an image, one that I am not aways actually aware of at the time.
I know who you were with last week, and when I was in his workshop a couple of years ago, we were sitting around one evening have a beer or three when he said something like "there's an image over there - - - and the pain of not capturing that image on film has now exceeded the pain that will be involved in setting up the camera to photograph it", whereupon he set up his 11x14 and made an exposure. The point is that the image suggested itself to him - he did not seek out the image.
That said, I know that there are certain things that I enjoy photographing more than others, and I know that there are also some subjects that are very popular with other photographers that I don't especially enjoy. That means that I probably do bias the process of images "finding me" by more frequently putting myself into those settings that are more likely to present the kind of images that I enjoy. For example, I don't get very turned on by "roots and rocks", so you won't find me hiking up mountains. But I do like manmade things, so I tend to gravitate toward situations involving buildings, structures and machines.
Colehogan raises an important point - many of us have been (and still are) involved in camera clubs. I know that I have learned a lot from the club experience, and that the inspiration of the club has challenged me to improve my photography. But as one matures as a photographer, there is a point beyond which a club can be a problem. Clubs establish expectations, and satisfying those expectations can limit further growth of photographic vision.
Chances are, as Monophoto stated, you probably have several themes running through your work. It's difficult to edit and organize your own work, and sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, if you will. Try to step back from the subject matter, and see where images relate to each other on a purely visual level. You had a couple of visually atmospheric photographs in the gallery today. Any more? There was one with a tree right in the middle... any more with a strong central vertical element? Themes will start to reveal themselves.
Hey Peter, Have a look at John Blakemores Black and white photography workshop book, It's more a book about picture making than a how to manual. It has a few chapters on how he developed various bodies of work(landscapes and tulips)over several years. It makes fascinating reading and is a real workshop in a book.