What Are Your Images Saying?
Raise your hand if you’ve heard phrases like: “What are you trying to say?” or, “What’s the concept?” … and pretended like you knew what that actually meant?
I, for one, have always understood exactly what they meant. I nodded knowingly when I heard those phrases tossed about in podcasts and interviews. I 100% knew what it meant … riiiiight up until I asked myself what I was saying with my own image making.
That’s where I got stuck. I began noticing that the images I was making, although technically well executed, were leaving me unsatisfied. They weren’t saying anything. I wasn’t saying anything. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. And then Ben Sasso opened my eyes and mind to new possibilities with one YouTube video.
I’m a married father of four who didn’t get my first DSLR until I was 40. I didn’t go to art/photography school where instructors discuss what makes compelling images. I missed out on the homework assignments & projects. I didn’t get to practice weaving symbolism and references into my early work. I missed out on having an arena to develop ideas and peers with which to bounce ideas off of.
So when Ben produced his BTS video (with the best narration you’ve ever heard) that went into the symbolism and references behind a concept … it clicked. He used props, color, location & posing to say what he wanted to say.
I was inspired and began noodling on what I wanted to say, and what props and tools could I use to convey my own thoughts and feelings.
It still took me months of noodling to come up with my own concept. I had elements of a shoot in my head, but it wasn’t complete enough to scout locations or cast talent. The final piece of the puzzle came by accident.
Next door to my favorite coffee shop is a second hand store. They sell all manner of antiques and I never paid it much attention … until I saw an old CB radio out front with dozens of other random items. That radio sparked something in me.
For whatever reason, it took me another day or two before I went into the shop to ask about the CB radio. It was for sale for $70. Not what I wanted to spend on a relic, but I knew investing in my own personal shoots was crucial to producing the kind of work I want to get hired to shoot. I asked about renting instead … turns out that was the right way to go. I could rent it for $20 for the weekend. Ever since then I use these kind of stores to scout for inspiration. I kind of understand “antiquing” now.
These images are the result of that first concept shoot. Although I don’t feel like I nailed the concept, it is an awesome start. I know I missed some angles and emotion, but I’m happy with the opportunity to get my ideas out. Incorporating symbols and references into my personal shoots gave me the voice I’d been missing. Slipping details that represent me and the way I see and feel about things into my images has been a game changer (a way over-used expression, I know. But it fits).
I think this Ansel Adams quote helps: “To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.”
If I’m a part of every image I make, what do I want them to say about me and the way I see the world? Without that, they’re just pretty pictures and that left me feeling incomplete.
Am I the only one late to the references and symbolism party? Or do I have company I can walk with on this photo journey/obsession? I’d love to hear where you’re at on your journey.
Jason Flynn is a portrait photographer living in Burbank. You can see more of his work at JasonFlynnPhotography.com and keep up with him on Instagram and Twitter.