To me the art in photography is not so much the singular act of seeing and taking the photograph, but rather the depth and significance of the entire conversation that takes place from the moment we see something through to the creation of the final image. The taking of the photograph and the creation of the final image are different, but connected conversations.
When something stops us in our tracks and forces us to point our lens in its direction, it is often a reaction to our subconscious. We don’t always know what makes us stop and we don’t always know what makes us go through what Bruce Barnbaum calls “the rhythm” of technical decisions we make when composing and taking the shot. Some time ago I learned from a very wise photo friend (you know who you are) that the mechanical process of seeing, stopping, composing and capturing is missing a key step. A step so important, that it often makes the difference between a good shot and a great shot. The missing step is to connect with the subject through conversation before you make any of your technical decisions. The conversation helps you understand what it was that made you stop in the first place. It helps you better understand the subject and the best way to portray it. It helps you understand your feelings and emotional reaction to the subject. When we begin to understand we begin to interpret how to best capture the subject in a way that tells our story about it. Composing the shot will be influenced by our understanding when it comes to making decisions about what to include in the frame that supports / emphasizes the subject, or exclude if there are elements that do not add to the story you are trying to tell. We will have a much better understanding of how light can create the right mood. In short, the conversation is giving respect to what we are taking from the subject, i.e. the photograph.
During a recent workshop with the same wise photographer I began to realize that the conversation was only partially complete at this time. While I understood that post processing included a number of decisions I would make to create a final image, I did not realize the conversation should continue. However, the conversation can be somewhat different this time since I can make decisions about how close to reality I want the final image of the subject to be – Michael Kenna calls this suggestion rather than documentary. While the conversations can be different on many levels, for me the major difference is how my mood and feelings at the time of creating the final image can be very different from when I took the photograph. Indeed, varying moods and feelings can result in different final images from the same negative from one day, week, month or year to the next.
I am constantly looking for ways to grow my photography and contribute to the ongoing conversation about photography. I firmly believe that growing my ability to connect with my subject through conversation and being respectful to it in the images I create are important ingredients in creating images that are my own, which I believe is necessary before they can considered in the conversation.