On Artistry and Work
So this here is a post, in part because I never post enough, and in part because there are several thoughts I have on my experiences thus far with photography that I have rarely shared.
First, I’ll digress a bit to reiterate that I have not been diligent in posting to this blog! In part, this is because I want updates to be meaty and meaningful, and often times I only have enough time to edit a photo and post it. I think, going forward, I’ll be a little less stringent in what qualifies in a blog post… so hopefully that will mean you will see more.
These posts, and other interactions on social media sites are important because they let me interact with everyone who may be viewing my work. It also allows those folks to share what they see with friends and family. I hope that by getting the word out, both on the internet and amongst locals, will open doors for me in the future when it comes to photography.
So, back to the subject at hand…
I’ll start with what will be my main takeaway from this post. Photography, like anything you put creativity, personal effort (work), and passion behind, is art. This may be obvious to some, but it was lost on me when I began in the field.
Back when I got my first dSLR in 2006, I found my camera as a tool of exploration, and my photos to be evidence of where I had been. When people first started commenting on my pictures after that time, I felt ashamed that they were complimenting me on my “work”. I felt that word had nothing to do with what I was doing. To me, I was simply recording the awesomeness of the world around me, and that anyone with a camera or the means to record would have shot the same thing. I felt that the real art was in the nature of my subjects, not the direction behind the “tool”.
For many years, I held this thought close to me. This might have been because, over those initial few years, I didn’t actively pursue an advancement in photographic skill. For those of you in the field, an example is that I didn’t understand manual exposure controls, use a tripod, or know what clipping was until perhaps mid-2009. Naturally, I found it interesting that people were commenting on my “work” when I had only superficial knowledge on the subject.
Things changed for me during that year of 2009. I can’t really pinpoint what sparked it, but I would venture that it was that I finally started looking outward to the community to see where I stood. Up until that point, I had taken several photos, developed a website, had participated in a few art shows, but still wasn’t getting the traction I had hoped for. I thought that looking around, to my peers and on the internet, would help me determine where I stood in the photography world. One person I can say I looked towards was Sunny Mathur, who by that time was already a well-established and quality wedding photographer (and who has since vastly improved and continues to advance his skill and offering). Just having someone to talk about photography was a vast help for me, and assisted in my motivation for learning and advancing myself.
Since that time, I’ve spent innumerable hours researching photographic techniques and practicing them in the field, researching and traveling to local and distant shooting sites, honing processing techniques, reaching out to fellow photographers, spreading the word about me, and the list goes on.
The key difference from my early years, though, is that I’m taking the time to really try and get better at what I do. In this way, I consider myself much more of an artist than I ever was previously. I am deliberate and concentrated in my approach, from planning, to executing, to finishing, and sharing. I now want to share with you not only my experience of being there (as I had been doing since my early years), but the very particular emotion and awe I felt. The results you see today are much more calculated than in years past.
So, if today someone calls a photo of mine, “work”, I understand a little more of what it means. Since I spent so much time in creating and refining the image, I think it’s fair to call it a work, as you would a gingerbread house (pardon my Christmas reference ).
Building off that point, any piece of “work” can therefore be “art”, given a degree of creative freedom. The simple fact that I have put in my time and effort to get an image completely right validates it as a work, to me. Similarly, if you put in 10 hours of work in wooding your floor (which is what one of my good friends just did), that is art as well! Anywhere you can have creative freedom, even if it is limited, and you put in the hours to get it exactly how you want and convey the thoughts you’d like to share, it is art — and therefore should be celebrated.
All said, my discoveries and reflections as an artist are still in their infant stages. But, I know I’m encouraged by even the slight feelings of accomplishment I have at each iteration, and the validation I get from others (which I think can be another post entirely). These feelings make me value my relationship with photography, and appreciate the other artists out there (most of whom do much more complex and laudable work).
I encourage you to find your own art in your daily life. Even if you don’t think of yourself as an “artist”, there is likely something you do, where you create, work, and share. If you’re anything like me, embracing the artist in you and accomplishing work will make your soul sing.
I’ll leave you with a quote I found inspirational, and one of my first images (from 2006):
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
One of my first “processed” images: a lamp post in my neighborhood in Maryland. October 2006