I’ve been taking myself seriously.
And not in the usual sense, like, “I take myself too seriously”, but more in the, “I can do whatever I feel like and set my mind to.” It sounds a little silly coming from a 31-year-old, but I truly did not (and to be completely honest still kind of don’t) believe I could truly ever be wealthy, make money from my art, own a home, or feel healed or stable.
Yet, I’m starting to think of myself as a fine art photographer. Me, someone who’s been making photos for over 15 years without ever once letting myself dream of making money photographing what I want. All I’ve known is that I didn’t want to be a wedding or studio or editorial photographer, and those were the only photographers who seemed to make enough money to support themselves.
Even the photographers who are now considered to be ~fine artists~ like Diane Arbus, Dorthea Lange, and Imogen Cunningham had to make studio portraits and photos for magazines in order to make a living. I am now coming to terms with the fact that many things in life, including art, only truly hold value when it transcends the artist’s vision and offers something personal to the viewer. The importance of art is not merely to create whatever you like, but to be free to serve your viewer in a way that also resonates and aligns with you.
I suppose if I really gave it an honest effort, I could be an effective photographer by trade, merging my artistic vision with celebrations like weddings, documenting pregnancies and newborns, cultivating intimate family sessions, and even make compelling studio portraits.
What I am learning is that the taking-myself-seriously part of being a fine artist means finding a way to balance the methodology and practice I have when making images with achieving a shared goal between myself and the subject.
Until now I’ve been living a romantic life, observing and using my instincts to time photographs, calling it art because I’m capturing the emotion I have when compelled to expose a frame. But does it evoke an emotion in anyone else? Do I continue this practice of gambling – trusting that I’ll be at the right place at the right time – not snapping with forethought or intention, but relying on my intuition to guide me? It feels risky to continue hoping that someone somewhere will relate to my work when it is not made for anyone but myself with only myself in mind.
I am learning how to work with others in finding and creating images that tell a bigger story and show a commonality between myself and the subject.
I’m asked if I have any ideas of what I’d like to make. Well, this far I’ve only wanted to make images that I think look appealing to me in some way I can hardly describe, without having to come up with a vision to work from. In other words, I don’t know what the photo is going to look like until I see it.
It’s hard to consider myself creative instead of a documentarian. I have, to this point, had very little to do with the image; I’ve simply done the work of observing, adjusting the settings on my camera depending on the information presented, composing what I think is appropriate and important to display, and press the shutter. It is not often that the perfect moments with perfect conditions arise, but when they do, I shoot my shot. How long does that last? How long will I have to travel and observe and be at the mercy of my environment to provide me with images that resonate?
Now I am increasing my odds by controlling more of what I am in front of. If I want to make photos that I love and therefore create art that I love, I have to be around people, be in places, and do things that interest me. The beauty of this is that my interests don’t exist in a vacuum. Many people enjoy the same interests as me and participate in what I find exciting and beautiful. I just have the job of being there to observe and capture.
What am I interested in? Sexuality, sex work, social constructs, psychology, sociology, anti-capitalism, people who exist in the fringes of society, respecting those who tend to be discarded by society, the working class, the quiet ones who work behind the scenes, those not looking to be recognized, the brooding, the dark, the broken, empty, the people clawing their way through the world, people who advocate for themselves, people who are working on their healing, people who become more self-aware, women and female-identifying people, manifestors, artists, those who create things out of nothing, skeptics, conspiracy theorists, ufologists, horror enthusiasts, futurists, storytellers, people of diaspora, traumatized people processing, mental health advocates and survivors of all kinds, fantastical, imaginative people, anime, Japanese culture and people, asians, people of color, fairy tales, folklore, mystical things, metaphysical theories and practices, hoaxes, scammers, poetry, nature, righting wrongs, embracing the negative, acknowledging the purpose of all things, radical acceptance especially of what is usually deemed unacceptable, debating morality and forgiving the unforgivable. Im obsessed with celebrating all the shades of gray between black and white, polarities and binary concepts found in nature and life. I love abandoning what we think we know and being open to the fact that we know nothing at all. I like adventure, fun, pops of color, cotton candy clouds, sparkles, sunshine, rainbows, pastels, real, raw emotional people showing who they really are, natural available light, human beings being human, naturally, freely, finding a way to make magic. I want to dissolve the camera between us and forget that it’s there.
Perhaps the photographers who are hired to shoot for publication and for hire have something figured out early on. That their talents are best shared creating for others. What do you think? What makes photography art?
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