Thursday, June 18, 2015

Taking Stock as a Photographer

What do you really want to photograph?

To answer that question, I spent last weekend in a workshop with Ana Puig Rosado, an amazing photographer who lives only 30 minutes' drive from me in the beautiful lavender valley of La Roche St Secret. This is my photo of her house, reflected in the window of a typical Provencal cabanon. She maintains two websites to separate her photo-journalism from her weddings and other projects. Both are stunning.

Fears that my French would let me down diminished as I discovered that 'RAW' is 'RAW' in French, pronounced 'Roe', evidemment. Camera settings and menus are all in English so it's my French friends who have to get used to S for Vitesse (or for Canon shooters TV, which I always think of as Toute Vitesse).

Ana travels. Sometimes commissioned, sometimes with a project she hopes to sell afterwards and sometimes because she just 'wants to go to Tel Aviv.' She is a photo-reporter, working usually with natural light and an emphasis on getting it right in camera. She is the antidote to stock photography, in which I've been semi-conditioned for the last 6 years. Her notion of editing is to choose a small selection of photos that make a coherent collection.

Here's the portfolio that Ana put together showing the workshop behind the scenes as well as mini-galleries from each of us (mine is the first one).  

Until recently, I saw each photo as a one-off. Albums were 'best of'. Influenced by reading David DuChemin, I have started to think about collections as a whole, in the galleries on my website; in the selection chosen with my Editor for 'One Sixth of a Gill'. You can imagine how pleased I was with the reviews from the Wishing Shelf judges; 'A worthy finalist... 5 (of the 31) judges thought that the photography was the best part.' It is time to ask more of myself as a photographer.
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With perfect timing, I received a professional report on the portfolio from LensCulture, whose portrait competition I'd entered. By happenstance, this is also the organisation which featured Dead Season on the Edge of the Black Sea by - guess who - Ana Puig Rosado! Some things are just meant to be.

The opportunity to receive a review was given as a bonus for entry and I was asked to submit a portfolio of 10 photos. I chose the 3 portraits I'd entered for the competition (that hadn't won) and 7 others I liked, showing the range of my work.

Don't cheat. look at these photos and decide what feedback you would give. Then read what I was told. 

Reviewer Feedback

I found some of these individual images very interesting and was drawn in by your innovative approach to self-portraiture. The mix of work here is very eclectic. I can understand it is hard to summarize your work in one edit and you may have wanted to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your practice, but I suppose we are just very used to seeing series of work in photography where you see one body of work explored in-depth. There are many images here that are very singular and beautifully taken shots particularly image 5 and 6. But I would encourage you to move from picking an individual good image to thinking about your work as a series.

Editing into a coherent series would enable the viewer to see more of you and how you work and also what you have to say. As we are so saturated by images all the time we need to work out what we are looking at and how to position it easily. I notice you do not have an artist's statement. It might be a very helpful exercise for you to write one. I realise they are hard to do as they in part require you to be concise and clear about what you are doing and you may work in a more organic less premeditated way. But the advantage is they force you to consider what might connect your work, and help you to develop confidence in your own voice.

Perhaps that is why the self-portraits interest me, they tell me more about you ( I am assuming they are of you). They make me think of Bill Viola's moving and slow studies of faces which take on a religious or spiritual edge and are very powerful. I like the idea that a single fixed image of self is never enough. We change so much over time and expressions alter our faces completely and you capture this well with this group of 3 images. I hope you will continue with those more in the future.

What do I think of the review?

I'm chuffed! And I smile now at my naivete in putting the collection together in such a random way. I'm writing this blog for everybody who's shared in my progress as a photographer - and for others who still think of one photo at a time.

Compliments like those in the review are really motivating me to carry on experimenting without worrying about what will sell in my istockphoto portfolio

Thank you to that anonymous reviewer, who made further suggestions. I would love comments from other photographers on the blog, on the review, on the idea of collections. I haven't answered the question of what I really want to photograph but I have some ideas!