I've feel like I've reached a stage in my photography where I'm pretty convinced I can visualise and compose a decent photographic image. I also feel fairly confident in my knowledge of photographic chemistry and how to use this to benefit my negatives/ prints, and therefore get reasonably predictable results.
Now I'm struggling with Soul - by this I mean that certain something that, when you view the print it picks you up, smacks you in the face, and demands your attention. I see some amazingly technically perfect images here in the galleries, but often, to me, they seem little more than that, technical excersises with no Soul - please dont think this is a personal attack upon anyone specific - I class my own work in a similar light, I'm lacking Soul too.
I see some other work here of the most mundane subjects, but they sing out loud with more soul and harmony than a Gospel choir.
How do we foster this sense of soul? Is it innate and exclusive, is it about any single part of the image making process? Is it too emotive and intra-personal that no two people will agree what it is anyway?
every and any ones thoughts would be extremely helpful.
I believe all prints made with care have soul but not everyone sees it or gets it or feels it. A lot has to do with the viewer's tastes and biases. But I also believe it starts first with the photographer and whether or not he or she feels it has soul. I think that it is there at the moment of exposure and the caring printer will hopefully bring this out for at least one viewer to relate to either emotionally or intellectually (ideally both). I like to visit the same places over and over again as in many cases the soul of what I see is not revealed at first pass.
You have achieved the first level of photography - technical competence. Now starts the the long journey. You have reached a plateau and will definitely spend a lot of time here making photographs at this level. I can't say how long it will take to get off the plateau and get to a higher level, but here you are. The only way off the plateau is to make photographs.
The issue you describe is common to all photographers. If you are committed you will continue to make photographs. So go out there and make photographs.
I think I'm in about the same place as you: I can dependably compose, expose, and develop a decent negative. Like you, it's now a question of "what next?"
Like Joe points out, what we really need to do is just shoot pictures. But having some technical competence is a two-edged sword. When I first started out, I burned film like a maniac. Occasionally, I would accidentally get something good. Now, however, my eye is more critical, and all too often, as I get ready to trip the shutter, I think of all the reasons why that particular shot won't turn out to be anything good. Often, I don't trip that shutter.
What constitutes Soul in a print? Many things. There are two factors that are easy to work on. First: composition. Second: the elusive "luminosity." The best B&W prints seems to be emitting light. To achieve this, I try to shoot in beautiful light. Then, I try to print so that I get delicately rendered highlights. Prints that exhibit harsh lighting with chalky, blown out highlights do not, IMHO, have soul.
Like the above, I agree you have moved from the first level. While I know my work is still there, I also know that what you are looking for now - 'The Soul" of the image, will come. You can't rush it, there is no place, chemical, paper, camera, lens that will help get you there. IT IS IN YOU!
You have to let it out, you will know when it is there, you will Feel it when you look at a scene (now everything is different), you will know when you look through the viewfinder or at the ground glass, you will know when you pull the negative out of the soup for the first time...you will Know when you print it.
The image will sing to you, you will feel an emotion that you may not feel right now - you will feel that same emotion when you 'See' a scene that you know would be a great photograph.
It is in you, you just have to help it come out..forget about wanting it, as the others have said - just go out and make art.
You have begun an journey - Good Luck and Good Light....
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I have no idea how to describe "Soul". I think I can perceive its presence by its effect. I would suggest that the "striving" for complete technical perfection is detrimental to acheiving "soul":
To illustrate- Recently my Granddaughter played in a High School orchestra concert. The usual fare; Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak (sp?) all done with an almost superhuman expenditure of sheer effort - to make it perfect. And sadly, lacking "soul".
The concert concluded with "All That Jazz" from "Chicago". Brilliantly done ... a piece that most of the musicians could find that they easily related to ... most had seen the motion picture - it was "alive" and current and meaningful to them. Wonderfully done - with ELAN!! - Joie de vivre ... And 'way entertaining to experience from the audience!!
I talked to the Music Teacher / Director afterwards - to compliment her on her and the Orchestra's performance... She, overly modestly said, "There were mistakes..".
There might well have been. So what? The 'freedom', the spontaneity, the sheer pleasure of performing - all of that, and I'm sure much more - SHONE through.
"Perfect" is nice ... but "soul" - "Life" - Love of the Art" ... is so much more - profoundly more - important.
Ed Sukach, FFP.
I am going to speak from the type of subject matter that I photograph most often. I think the illusive term "soul" is not indicative of luminosity. Luminosity is a technical matter. I think that soul is about images that engage. I think that in order to produce photographs that engage we must first become engaged.
By that I mean that we must become actively involved it the act of seeing to the level that we are not just producing images about "things". When we do this then we are seeing the "nature of things" and are capable of making images about the "nature of things".
Far too often I look at something and my mind fills in the "rest of the story". That is I see a tree crested hill with the shimmering grass of the meadow below (for example). And what occurs is that my mind says "oh, but I have seen this before and this is how this looks". When this occurs I cease to see. As someone said "I don't photograph because I have a more critical view". That "critical view" is my mind "filling in the rest of the story".
When I recognize this critical or judging aspect within myself and can put it aside then I see some really interesting things. I begin to see the "nature of things". If I could just for one moment take on the vision of my first hour of life and portray my impressions of that which is around me then I would be a rich photographer. Why? because I will be portraying that which most of my fellow man have ceased to see.
If this "nature of things" isn't "soul" then I don't know what is.
Edward Weston once said something about how, when he started to think, he stopped photographing. Writers know the problem Donald is addressing - it's referred to as The Editor or The Critic. You're writing along in a groove and The Editor suddenly stops you with "That's no good." Or "So-and-so wouldn't write it that way."
We have the same thing with photography - as Donald said, the mind fills in and stops the seeing. How to move beyond this? I don't know yet.
Originally Posted by juan
Thanks for bringing up how to go beyond this critical aspect. Since the problem lies within us then the solution must lie there as well. The level of the correction must correspond to the level of the error.
The way to move beyond it is to consciously recognize this criticical aspect for what it is. To stop listening to it and to slow down. To free ourselves to "see". To photograph that which is always there before us as it actually exists.
Stop trying to get into my mind, There is nothing there!