These are ongoing thoughts of mine that I have been contemplating since starting my degree in photography last October. As we began and I read through the university briefs and saw the books I was asked to read, they all seemed to be books that I don’t quite mesh with and some of them I have even read or own. The wording that was given in briefs were clearly expected to inspire the work that would then follow, once you’d picked your way through it and found the ‘gold nuggets’ as such, but I still wasn’t finding this was necessarily so. I’d read through a lot of the writing and articles given and my brain would just exclaim, BUT YOU DON’T AGREE WITH THIS, THIS ISN’T WHAT PHOTOGRAPHY IS ABOUT (to me).
For months and months I sat there getting more and more frustrated with the wording and ideas being thrown around about the difference between “art photography” and “straight photography”, the outcome of all that torture was simply that I felt guilty every time I took a photograph. I felt like I didn’t have an identity in what I was doing so my work was meaningless and empty… I felt like all my photography had no purpose and so therefore I had no right to strive to make it have a purpose. I’m not going to be overly modest, I knew a fair bit about photography and it’s histories from years of obsessing, researching and reading, plus having a fantastically motivating and well-knowledged tutor on an evening class I did at college. All through my teenage years I would be photographing, everything and anything, sometimes having lowpoints but I always had this thirst for creating photographs.This thirst and obsession had now dried out and had been suffocated by definitions and want of recognition (essentially because I was trying too hard).
In my last term, I tried focusing on just creating the images and not to worry about what everyone had to say, which box they put it in, whether it pleased them or not. What came out of this was work that expressed the depressed mood I was put in as soon as photography was mentioned. Tutorials became irritating as people bounced around these modernist photographers or postmodern photographers but described them in modernist thinking, until I realised that once again, I was trying too hard and it was going to be harder than that to shake it all off.
I will admit, I can take a damn great photograph when my ‘photography mojo’ wants to, I go into a trance almost when I take photographs like that. I’m not sure I’ve heard many people actually say that to me, I’m sure there are plenty of them out there, I’m just not sure how else to explain it. The reason I’m starting to write about this now is because, yesterday I decided (after a fair break) that I wanted to take some portraits of my friend Lydia (again) with my Bronica, and it was so much fun. It was so simple, it was like, no one was looking over my shoulder and saying, WHAT’S THE MEANING IN THIS? WHERE WOULD YOU SEE THIS WORK? WHO WOULD BUY THIS PORTRAIT? WHERE ARE YOU GOING NEXT IN THE PROJECT? Because, fair enough this is University and you are being taught some things in thinking about these questions. Sometimes to create great work, with me at least, you have to let go and just create a photograph that makes you filled with innocent joy.
That’s exactly why I created a fantastic project in my first term with Lydia as my subject. She’s my favourite photography buddy and we have been close friends since I came to England at age 7 which makes her one of the best companions for creating work. I half realised this at the time but went boldly but blindly into the second project without that great support I had in the first project and fell flat on my face. It took a lot to continue to the end. I’m not sure how to push these thoughts into practice, I can’t have Lydia there whenever I take a photograph, but perhaps I can only take fantastic portraits like that with people I know fairly well and who understand the way I work. Perhaps I should just go out and take portraits of anyone and everyone like I used to, get back into just talking and instructing people, with a hint of collaboration.
So all in all, photography books, your wealth of knowledge and histories are both fantastic and often spirit-crushing. You’re barely written by practicing photographers and often these are the books that excite me the most, although interviews with photographers are also hit and miss with how I see myself in photography. It’s only someone’s opinion, Jasmine. It’s not written in stone. Apart from their additional experiences and wisdom, they know no better than me about what photography is. They can only truly know/understand their own special relationship with photography. I’m still trying to understand what that is, but I think that’s a lifetime journey which as much of a waste of time as it sounds, is one of the most important things to me right now. That’s after just taking photographs, plain and simple.
Highlands, Scotland, Last year, The most inspiring part of the UK I’ve ever visited. If I could photograph people in this area everyday, I think I’d last a long time without being bored. 😉