The Passionate Photographer – A Life Obsessed
All I ever wanted to do was take pictures. I love photography. My tagline says “obsessed by all things photographic” and it’s true.
When I was 16, I spent a summer riding around my suburban Montreal home on a 70cc motorcycle, an all-mechanical Nikon FM/35mm lens dangling from my neck. I was documenting community life for a local weekly newspaper long since gone. Even better, I got paid for it. As good as it gets I thought.
Years later, I graduated university with a journalism degree, and I couldn’t wait to aim my camera at issues I thought were important.
Fast forward ten great; sometimes-frustrating; always-stimulating years as a news photographer, I was finding it difficult to stay fresh and challenged. Daily assignments had made me a skilled and swift-working photographer, but I had become impatient, often retreating within my comfort zone, feeling forced to work in a formulaic fashion because of time constraints. I was ready for a photographic break-through, a way to slow down and find a way back to the innocence of vision and joy I had as a young guy cruising around town with my camera.
If there’s one concept I want to convey in my guest post (thanks Scott and Brad for the opportunity), it’s that the most rewarding part of the photographic process often comes when you find a project or theme you feel passion for, one you can dig into, and challenge yourself to create a set of pictures.
Finding Your Passion
Directing your photographic energy and passion towards a story or theme is something I feel confident will lead you toward becoming the photographer you want to be. It is passion that will take you there…if you let it.
But you have to find the subject matter that inspires you to commit and drives you to work hard, moving past frustrations and through obstacles, pushing towards a photographic place of competence and excitement you cannot even imagine as you read this.
In the evolution of a photographer, to get to the next step, liberating yourself from photographic routine, peeling away layers of traditional imagery to get to the core of your photographic soul is to be honest and ask, “What is it I am trying to say through my photography?”
Diane Arbus said something to the effect of “the more personal you make it, the more universal it becomes.”
What a powerful and liberating thought. In my experience it’s dead on.
Photography is a universal language and the more honest and revealing you are, the more viewers will respond to the work. If you stop trying to make images that look like what you think strong photography is supposed to look like and instead look inward, aiming your camera at the things most personal to you, following your curiosity —your work will be elevated. Honesty and passion shine through.
Story ideas can come from anywhere. I tend to read as much as I can, looking at blogs, magazines, news sites, reading books, listening to music, visiting galleries, looking at the work of other artists and photographers. But many of my best ideas come from my own life. Personal experience and exploring your own connections often yield some of the best and most rewarding projects.
If you’re inspired by the landscape, what is it that inspires you? How does it make you feel? As you dig deep the goal is to create images that make the viewer feel something, maybe discovering what you already know about the place. In other words, images that transcend the literal and become more lyrical.
Consider putting together a set of images for a book or exhibition, even if that exhibition is in your own living room. The challenge of creating a set of pictures is to make each piece strong, yet when put together in a very deliberate way, the message communicated is often bigger and more complex than any individual piece can convey on its own. The sum is greater than the parts.
The process of assembling, sequencing and showing a set of pictures will force you to make tough decisions. If two images are similar, you need to choose the strongest one or the image that adds to or moves the communication of the project further. Some projects, use repetition as a way to build momentum, a portrait series for example. Regardless, it’s like peeling an onion, you get deeper and deeper, and start to make images that scratch and dig below the literal surface to photographic places new and exciting.
It’s no mystery that when you go through a volume of work, you learn from your experience and you get better. And because you’re passionate about the work, you will work harder and longer; putting in the time.
More comprehensive coverage yields stronger, deeper, and more interesting work. If your story involves people, for example, they often get more comfortable with you as time goes by, relaxing and letting their guard down to reveal more of themselves for you to c!apture. Shooting more helps improve your skills and makes you a better photographer.
For two summers, I went on a road trip from Maine to Alaska and I never looked back. Even though it has never been published, The America At The Edge Project changed my life.
Of course, all big ideas start with a small step, and securing your idea is what you need to do first. Don’t over think it, you won’t know for sure that your idea is executable until you start the process of shooting.
What Personal Projects Have Taught Me
All my projects turn into amazing adventures. Personal projects have taught me so much. I have shared my process in my book The Passionate Photographer and now in this post. I’m sure much of my process will sound familiar to you.