What part does the viewer play in the art of photography? What do you want the viewer to see? When I wrote my blog post “Why” the other day, I got a question from Reggie about how to get a bigger audience for once toy-photographs. And that got me reflecting on “for whom am I doing this?”
And what part does the audience play in my photography?
I don’t have an easy answer to these questions. On a good day I will say I take photographs for anyone who likes them. I love telling stories and sharing them with others. But I’m not sure that is all true.
In a photo workshop I attended, the workshop leader talked about about two extremes among photographers in handling the viewer. On one side there is the photographer who only makes photos for the viewer. All they care about is getting an audience, sharing them with the viewer and getting people to look at them. Their goal is to have the audience like them, or at least engage with them, even be provoked by them. On the other hand, there is the photographer who doesn’t care at all about the viewer. This group of photographers are satisfied to photograph and don’t need to share the results; the viewer has no or only a small role in their photography.
I do not remember if the workshops leader named any photographer whose work is driven by a need to meet the beholder, but I remember that I thought that those photographers must be common in the age of social media, on the other hand I remember that Vivian Maier was mentioned as an example of a photographer, who didn’t care about the viewer. If you don’t know Vivian Maier, she was a street photographer that took amazing photos but never developed them. She seemed to have mainly been driven by a desire to get the photograph, not to show them, or to share them. Most of her images weren’t developed by her, she only saw them in viewfinder.
I usually see myself as a photographer who want to have an audience that shares my interest in photography, but since I have been doing this for a while, I have come to realize that I don’t look for a large audience. I look for an audience that wants to engage in my work, and if that is only one person, then that person is whom I photographing for.