One of the people on my U3AC course ‘Photography: The Telling Image’ has been struggling to know what to photograph during these constrained times – his main interest is around live music events. I can understand how he feels, though it’s a very long time since I went to a live music event to simply enjoy the music much less to take photographs. It’s a common enough frustration though, pandemic or not, and sheds a light on why photography is important to us. If it were about simply taking photographs there is a myriad of subjects out there that would make more or less interesting and aesthetically pleasing photographs. The itch is not scratched by merely pressing the shutter, unfortunately.
Eddie Ephrams, writing in Black+White Photography magazine recently, responded to a challenge to think of three words that described his approach to photography. I tried this and came up with: ‘seeing’, ‘revealing’ and ‘understanding’. Seeing is about noticing what’s there in the world around me, the everyday as well as the extraordinary. Revealing means I try to take the time see beyond the obvious, the surface appearances and effects. Understanding, asks me to bring seeing and revealing together to achieve a greater knowledge of the subject, not just in itself, but also in relationship to its surroundings and the bigger interconnected system of which it is a part. For me, the tree words are as applicable to landscape as they are to street photography.
These three dimensions go beyond taking the photograph. At the personal level they relate to how the photograph might be used and how it connects to other existing or anticipated work on projects that might lead to a photo book. These may cover a specific subject, as in Ruckebfigur Revisited (2013), or something more conceptual, like Undertow (2019). Beyond the personal, I hope anyone viewing my pictures will experience something of the seeing, revealing and understanding that have informed them.
This does not provide an instant answer to the initial problem of what to photograph. The music photographer may not be interested in landscape nor formal portraiture: the best, enduring, photography comes from a true engagement with the subject not just the technical capacity to make a well-exposed and well composed picture. What another person’s three words might do is to encourage them to look at other subjects in new ways, and in turn provide a new direction for their photography.
Underlying this is the fundamental question of why we take photographs and the three words provide me with an answer: to see, to reveal and to understand. They also help me to distinguish between what the photograph is of and what it’s about.