Photographs: A Personal Matter


In his essay Truth and Landscape, Robert Adams suggested:

“Making photographs has to be, then, a personal matter; when it is not, the results are not persuasive. Only the artists’ presence in the work can convince us that its affirmation resulted from and has been tested by human experience. Without the photographer in the photograph the view is no more compelling than the product of some anonymous record camera, a machine perhaps capable of happy accident but not of response to form.”

Ansel Adams contributed to this discussion by stating:

“A photograph fails as an aesthetic expression of the subject if it is merely a superficial record. The expression must be an emotional amplification of the subject…”

In his Daybooks Edward Weston took the discussion to another level by stating that he learned more from a direct communion with nature than from the inspiration of other workers. He believed that:

“….to take ideas, without understanding them, is merely imitation.”

Following Weston’s thinking, we are often guilty of taking photographs created by others on our photography trips. They are locked in our minds and whenever a scene catches our attention we are in danger of being influenced by these other photographs. Even though we may have something to say and the desire to say it, there is a tendency to gravitate towards tried and tested methods, irrespective of whether or not what we see or feel is important. When this happens, we are afraid to see, feel, and express aspects of the world which are not obvious, popular, and safe. Shouldn’t the creative photographer discover and reveal something new about the world and not merely follow the paths of conventional seeing and doing? For example, we convince ourselves that the only way to capture the image is to compose it the same way we have seen others do. The influence of others, therefore, challenges our own connection with the scene and, as Robert Adams suggests, a lack of our own, individual presence in the final image makes the viewer (and ourselves) question whether or not we are contributing to the discussion or, if as Weston suggests, we are simply repeating what has already been said. The reason this is significant, as Weston suggested:

“Once a person has something to say, and has the incentive to express what he feels, his latent expressive talent will blossom forth.”

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1 comment

  1. I love the idea that creating an image is a “personal matter.” The notion that you could stay out of the image is false, I think. Stepping aside from an ego point of view might allow for the real soul of the artist to blossom and express itself in form. Something does get set aside so something else can come forward.

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