You Are What You Shoot

 “Every image he sees, every photograph he takes, becomes in a sense a self-portrait. The portrait is made more meaningful by intimacy – an intimacy shared not only by the photographer with his subject but by the audience.” – Dorothea Lange

 

I guess we are all familiar with an approach to diet that claims “you are what you eat”. If you keep stuffing yourself with a home roasted salmon with asparagus, some decent grain and a healthy salad, there is a good chance that your life as well as your persona will show that. Same goes for someone who lives on a six happy meals a day diet. Do not despair however, I will not try to convince you to eat healthy or preach about the health benefits of broccoli. This rule, or rather an idea, can be applied to any aspect of ones life.

If you are what you eat then you definitely are what you shoot.

Every photograph is a portrait of some sort. Not only people, but if you photograph landscape for instance, it will be a portrait of that particular landscape feature. When Michael Kenna spoke about photographing Tree by the Lake Kussharo ( http://procameraman.jp/Interview/overseas_File08_201207/Japan/Kussharo%20Lake%20Tree%20Study%201%20Kotan%20Hokkaido%20Japan%202002.jpg ) he referred to it as a portrait of “that old lady” and he spoke about her it that very fashion, as he would about a human being. If we take that every photograph is a portrait and bring words of Dorothea into the picture, every single photograph we make becomes, in a sense, a self-portrait.

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We are One

“I am that old man crossing the street. I am that woman passing by. I am the rolling hills in the mist. I am Nikon.” Hang on… Actually, this one is bull, but I guess you get the idea.

What I found, in my not-too-long photography adventure, is that vision is single most important skill, or rather an ability, that you can have available to you. Vision, in a sense, that reflects your inner projection of the world around you. As an individual, you perceive the surroundings with an unique viewpoint. If, for instance, Josef Koudelka had your personality, along with your character, his photographs would look a bit different. In no way better or worse, he would still create great work, but it would carry a different feel to it. I often find people refer to it as a “style” in photography. It is not about what format you are shooting with, where you usually put your subject within the frame (upper left junction, anybody?) or how you expose your shots. This does play a role, but a very minor one. What makes up for a style is how you “see” your subject, how you interact with it and what is the out coming emotion. If you can convey this, you have found your style, and it is nothing else, but your Self reflecting off the lens. That is when your work becomes great, even if your photographs are a bit underexposed.3

Finding your Self

My former kendo sensei, when asked how one could get better at kendo outside of the dojo, answered: “eat well, live well and be happy”. Becoming a better person will make you become a better artist. There are tons and tons, and then some more books on self-development. It is a well overused term and, just as creativity, I have grown to hate it. But the idea is showing the right direction, regardless of the label. Math writes itself here. Nasty character will show up when photographing people in a demeaning way, exploring their flaws and insecurities. Interest in people and human condition will make you approach them with respect. If you are driven by nature in your daily life, a little stream by your house will make for an astonishing print. One that will show it in its greatness.

Follow your drive. Answer this question: “If money were no object, what would I do/photograph?”. Way too many photographers lose their drive as they pursue a “career” in photography, changing directions as the wind changes, heading where the profits lay. Go with whatever resonates with you the most. The rest will show up when the time is right.2

What we do, and how we do it, determines what sort of personality do we carry with us on a daily basis and thus what we photograph it shows a reflection of our inner voice. We need to listen to it intently. Skills, equipment aside, this is the thing that matters most. A skill that needs practice, but if you give it a lot of time and patience, it will reward you as no other. Have that in your tool box and you will far surpass master technicians with not much to say.

Greg Krycinski is a photographer and an author. You can find more of his work at www.ditchitall.com, a blog about creativity and self expression in arts and crafts.