My social media bios, like a lot of other peoples, proudly state that I am a ‘photographer’. Such a statement may lead people to think that being a photographer is an endpoint, or a destination. In fact if there is anything that my short years of working with the medium has taught me it is that it’s most definitely a journey that does not stop. Knowing where the journey will take you is impossible, however having an understanding of some of the steps you need to take is not. One of the first steps is deciding on what you want to capture through the viewfinder and why.
This sounds like an easy first step but in fact it is possibly the hardest to take and it is something that I myself am still wrestling with. Why? Well I believe it stems from the way I have developed my use of photography as a means of expression. Social media platforms, mainly Instagram, and their peer-to-peer approval stimulated release of endorphins, have been the sole driver of my work as a photographer. Instagram in particular has been my only outlet for the images I chose to share and while I am the first to espouse the greatness of the platform (I’ve been on it since 2011!), it does have subtle side effects that have an impact on developing photographers. The first of these is the single image approach to sharing content.
This single image style of shooting and sharing has definitely had an impact on my development as a photographer I feel. Now I am the first to admit that I have been entirely complicit in this developmental issue through my addiction to Instagram. The one post at a time and subsequent ‘flood of likes’ nature of the platform has caused me to become lazy with the narrative of my work and the reason behind it. Although I have always put thought into each individual shot, I have not purposely gone about shooting for a longer term reason or for a larger project. In part this was because it was it not how success is measured in the world of instant celebration and gratification that is social media. Sure there is the option to post 'albums' of images in a single post, but in my experience this does not allow a set of images to be shared as a group with the corresponding story or message being adequately conveyed. As a result of this I had not really taken the time to develop my own style or plan and work on longer term projects, until now.
Developing as a photographer via the Instagram route has also come with the side effect of a blindness to the history of the art form, its techniques, and its past masters. While many people may think that in this age of digital photography where everyone can be a ‘photographer’, such knowledge and understanding is not so important. However in my mind that is where the journey to becoming a photographer really begins. It’s important to know what has gone before when trying to understand how to create something new. In some ways, starting out with photography via Instagram is kind of the wrong way of coming at it because you jump straight into sharing your work without really taking the time to understand how imagery in the past has been taken, curated and shared up until this point in time.
As I said at the start, the most difficult thing about photography is not what is going on in front of the camera but what is going on behind it, inside the head of the photographer. The story and the reason behind a shot, the thought process that led to the photographer being in a given space at a given time is where good photography begins. It may seem obvious however it is often given no regard whatsoever. Pick up any photography book and two things will strike you immediately; the presence of the photographers own style in the images and the reason behind the work. To build a meaningful narrative for ones work which tells a specific story or conveys a message in your own unique style, is the biggest challenge in photography. This is the step I have been working on for for a while now as I continue this journey as a developing photographer.
Having identified this need in my own work though, I must say that I am both incredibly excited and yet utterly terrified at the prospect. Before really becoming aware of this I would blissfully shoot at random all day long, with no purpose and no real focus. Ignorance was bliss. Now I have an appreciation of the enormity of the journey in front of me, I know I have my work cut out for me.
But at least I am on the journey and I think I know what my next steps are, if not where they will take me.