In my previous photography post I mentioned that I’d be starting a new project – to shoot and share only black and white images for a year. I started it off with 3 images entitled “Duality Pt. 1”, “Duality Pt. 2”, and “Duality Pt. 3”.
These images were captured early one morning in my hometown of Kleinmond, South Africa. Reflecting on the images, I wondered if there was a story behind them. Why did I take them? Did they represent something deeper? What if I just took the photos because I liked what I saw? What if there was no deeper meaning or story? Did this mean they were worthless?
Wrong. Let me explain.
I recently realised that I was no longer shooting for myself. I was shooting for likes, comments, and followers. I started searching for answers in contemporary photography literature. The more I read, the more I questioned my photos. They were, according to the literature, meaningless, pointless, and without intent. They did not matter.
Then, one day, I had the opportunity to interact with one of my favorite photographers, Polina Washington. During an Instagram Live session I asked her thoughts on intent (the ideas/stories behind photos) versus style (the visual aspect of photos). Her response changed my view completely. Paraphrasing, she had this to say:
“Contemporary photography is all about the idea of your photo and has little to do with the photo itself. You can take a photo of nothing and be famous because of the idea. For me, contemporary photographers talk too much about their photos. Photography is a language on its own; a visual language. It does not need more words to be described. Unfortunately, contemporary photography is what is popular now. It is not so easy to be exhibited or become famous if your photos have no idea or words to explain them. I don’t care for words in photography though. This is not why I take photos.”
Her response struck me for two main reasons:
Firstly, it made me realise that by subscribing to all the ‘rules’ of contemporary photography you will, once again, not be shooting for yourself. Replacing the affirmation from online communities, such as Instagram, with the acceptance from another (possibly more pretentious) community, changes nothing.
Secondly, it reaffirmed something I have always believed but never put into practice – your photos should speak for themselves. If you have to describe or explain them to people, something is lacking – either in your photos or in people. More importantly though, your photos should speak to you, and without explanation.
But where does this leave my 3 images? Are they still worthless because they were captured without much thought? I think not. You see, these images, worthless to some, have gone on to represent something much more to me; something they could never have represented the day they were captured:
The duality of shooting for others versus shooting for oneself.
Shooting for oneself, without much thought, allows for a multiplicity of interpretations of ones work. Shooting for others, and requiring words to explain ones work, leaves very little to the imagination.
So, on which side of this duality are you?