Reflecting on our photography and looking at the “bigger picture”.

Make-up-Expert

As I sit and type this blog entry in the lounge room of my wife’s parents’ apartment and wait for the “higher powers” (not supernatural ones, just ones with connections) to tell me when I can go out and photograph what I want, I realize – I haven’t shot anything meaningful since I left India. That was in March!

I’ve had an unusually long break.  When I travel, which is most of the year – it’s intense photography virtually every day, but for the past six months I’ve barely lifted my camera. While I’d like to photograph non-stop, all year-round, I have come to appreciate my time away from shooting. I try to utilize this time in the best way possible. For me that means marketing my work, sorting through thousands of photos to find ones which I will submit to contests, magazines and to Getty Images. This is also the time to learn more about photography, to read blogs and to look at other people’s work.

By doing things photography related, without actually shooting I’m able to distance myself from my own work a little, and by looking at all the other photography out there, I’m able to see where my images fit in the larger scheme of things, to see what role if any my photos play in the world so saturated with imagery. The time away from shooting allows me develop a self-awareness that helps one grow and evolve as a photographer or artist.

I really like what Alexei Brotdotovich, one of the first photography theorists said in regards to evolving as a photographer. I don’t remember  the quote exactly, but it was something along these lines:

Once you develop a style and become known for a particular kind of work – turn in the other direction, stop being formulaic and re-invent yourself”.

The phrase is very idealistic and conflicts with commercially motivated things like branding and the importance of developing a particular style that sets you apart from others, but there’s wisdom here.  Personally, I wouldn’t go so far as to turn in a completely different direction, but I do try to change the way I shoot and the way I approach photography every now and then, sometimes fairly dramatically.

My hope is that people will still find a common thread throughout my work, but I don’t want my photography to be consistently predictable, I don’t want the viewers to be able to  pin down my images to some formula. A sort of semi-self-re-invention may even go down well with clients or editors. While they may not be pleased by a a completely off-the-wall new body of work, an element of surprise within limits might be very welcome.

An interesting “re-invention” quote that comes to mind is from one of my favorite filmmakers – Wong Kar Wai, whose visually distinct work has gained him a huge following over the years and started new industry trends.  In one interview a couple of years back Wong said – “Too many people are making Wong Kar Wai films these days, I’ve got to make different kinds of films now”.

Here’s a real example of an artist who’s reached a great level of success and fame, but is thinking of changing the formula that has made him what he is. That’s inspirational. In this case the artist is not bound by his work, he is a master and not the slave of his own creations, because he isn’t afraid of creating something new and different. Sure there’s a risk and the possibility of failure, but there’s always the chance that something amazing and genius will evolve from the new approach and to me that is much more exciting than repeating the same known formula time and time again.

Hopefully, in about a week, everything will be sorted out, as far as my plans to go out into the countryside and photograph in villages. In the meantime I might just put my own thoughts into action and shoot some stuff I usually wouldn’t, right here in the city. One thing for sure – all this time off is making my head swell with ideas!

Check this blog tomorrow, if everything goes as planned, the new eBook on light will finally be released.

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6 Responses to “Reflecting on our photography and looking at the “bigger picture”.”

  1. gary S. chapman Says:

    I find a common thread in your work…Good!

  2. Monte Stevens Says:

    First of all I like the image you’ve posted, great idea and love the warm colors. Secondly, I like how you view your non-shooting time. There are excellent photographers who do not work on their business aspects when not pressing the shutter button. I am guilty of that. I also like how you use the word artist. It is something I’m accepting more of in my life. Thanks, for the images and words you share with us!

  3. Julien Dorol Says:

    Well Said Mitch,
    I shoot mainly while traveling, and I build my craft around travel photography. I love diving deep into my subjects and stick to my camera while abraod, but I do love the time after several month of shooting. I just put my camera away, sit in my couch and keep reading blog like yours, magazines, watching films… I just spend ages in librarys and anything with shelves full of photo books.

    I work to get my own style, but as I like to try different things, I shoot things for fun sometime : concert, weddings, cats and ducks… just to discover new lights, new framing, new people.

    I think we just need that break to get more critical on our work, and improve our vision.

    I’m just enjoying this time right now before heading to Nepal in few days…

    Happy travel Mitchell

  4. Mitchell Says:

    Thanks for the comments folks.

  5. lukasz kruk Says:

    hey
    i really like your photography. can’t quite put my finger on it… i think the best word to describe it is ‘subtle’. i especially like pictures from belarus, seems familiar (it’s close to poland).

  6. Michelle Says:

    I’m so glad I found your blog! Your photos are gorgeous!

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