It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring August Bradley!
Hi everyone, it’s a privilege to be invited to contribute to this community. Thank you Scott and Brad for the opportunity to share a little here as well as to discover so much rich content from previous posts.
I’m astonished by the rate of change in our craft and our industry. There has never been a better time to be a creative person, or to be in the media business. The number of opportunities are expanding at a rate that’s hard to wrap one’s mind around and, accordingly, it’s hard to determine which new avenues to go after and to pursue them with the consistency that success typically requires. Attention has become the scarcest of resources.
In the midst of this exponentially growing number of balls to chase, the act of creating photographic images has not changed all that much. Digital took over film, but you still operate the camera almost exactly the same. Lens selection is identical. Lighting is identical. And the content in front of the camera still trumps everything.
Photography has always required a personal commitment and many forms of the craft demand a persistent solitary pursuit to create a body of work to later distribute. Richard Avedon said that he began shooting to get closer to the things he was afraid of, citing examples such as women and death. The camera was a protective tool to explore something within himself. And it still can be.
It seems to me that another dimension of photography is gaining new prominence – the performance of photography is emerging as a part of our field like never before.
All the social sharing and audience building and enhanced communication has brought a heightened focus to the process of capturing the image. Everything we do in all aspects of our lives is documented and broadcast on a scale never before seen. And this is equally true for those of us who freeze time with cameras. Whether it’s online discussion, behind-the-scenes photos and videos, or the growing wealth of training media, dissecting and examining the act of photography (apart from the finished image) is on the rise.
Musicians always had this dichotomy – they did their recorded music and their performances. The recorded music has served largely as an invitation to look closer and see the more complete process in the performance.
This is all another way of saying that the work itself no longer exists in a vacuum, but as part of a larger discussion and that we as artists add value to our work and to the community by engaging in a greater dialogue. Many of the most elite photographers in the most high profile segments have virtually no presence or public face beyond their work. The process and persona behind the camera is shrouded in mystery. All of these artists rose prior to the digital communication revolution, and I don’t think we will see this as a norm ever again.
The discussion around the creation of a piece of work is now intricately connected to the work itself, giving it greater meaning and resonance. I think the dialogue is every bit as valuable, perhaps more so, than the framed image.
And this focus on the act of creation is not only valuable for a public audience, but for the artist’s inner self as well.
The one experience I have had with yoga left me with sore muscles and a single thought. The instructor said that “the yoga” is not the pose. It’s not the routine, or the workout. The yoga, he said, is how you hold your cup of coffee. It’s how you open the door. The poses are merely exercises to practice applying the deliberate, conscious, in-the-moment approach that you should then bring to every aspect of your life. This easily extends to photography.
When I first started shooting I was hyper conscious of my camera and what I was doing since I was unsure of the tool and of myself. This kind of deliberation was an obstacle. As I internalized the tool and the grew comfortable with the process of working with people on set, I stopped thinking much at all about the craft of shooting, and focused on the end result. The shoot itself was something to get through on the way to an end goal.
Eventually, I made an effort to go back to being conscious of the act of shooting, but with more comfort in the process. Now, I enjoy the act of shooting for its own sake, not necessarily racing toward a goal using the moment of shooting as a means to an end. It makes the process more playful, and I experiment and try more things along the way.
When I shoot fashion or conceptual work, it’s like I’m doing sculpture – minutely crafting each part of the composition: the pose, the set, the props, the light. When shooting portraiture, it’s like jazz. I’m riffing with the subject, we’re feeding off of each other’s energy and improvising the direction and tone.
And while the gear is the same and the setup and preparation has not changed, I can see a response in the team around me and in the subject before the camera when I’m in this zone of being more present and intimately connected to the process of shooting. So it’s certainly more enjoyable, which is reward enough. And though it’s impossible to measure, I also believe this heightened attention and joy in the act of shooting can’t help but lead to better results in the final work.
Above: A behind-the-scenes look into a recent commercial fashion shoot
I would love to hear if others have had similar journeys and discoveries.