My husband is constantly telling me that photography is a conceptual medium and it’s only been recently that I truly understood what that means. Photography is so much more than pixels in a file or an image on a piece of film, it’s an art form.
When you’re new to the wonderful world of photography it’s easy to get excited about mastering the technical aspects (i.e.: understanding your DSLR, knowing the rules of composition, mastering studio lighting, learning basic editing, etc.) and lose sight of the “Why?” Why are you taking a photograph in the first place?
Instagram, Flickr, 500px, G+, Facebook et al, have made this question irrelevant for most people. For the majority of the photographers who are posting photos on-line its enough to take a pretty picture and share it with friends and family. With the advent of highly competent camera phones and inexpensive DSLR’s, everyone sees themselves as a photographer; I think this is awesome! To me it feels like we are in a golden age of photography, anything goes and everyone is welcome.
I hope that as you grow confident in your own skills as a photographer you will want to move beyond taking technically good photos and create something more. Something lasting, something that has resonance beyond a simple like or comment on social media. A few of you have indicated you would like to see toy photography seen as an art form. If that’s going to happen we need to embrace the conceptual side of photography.
To me this is the essence of so much of what we talk about here on Stuckinplastic: when we talk about the importance of stories, when we talk about how important it is to have inspiration from other sources, when we talk about the like trap and when we talk about being true to yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Sunday painter, an amateur photographer or a semi-professional photographer its important to have goals, a road map, so you can keep growing and improving.
Understanding that photography is so much more than the image, that the story behind the image is of equal or greater importance, will help you to embrace this concept of photography as a conceptual medium. I realize that so far I have been talking rather vaguely about what this means, so let me try to be specific. Embracing the conceptual means that you know what you’re trying to say with your photograph. You know the message you’re trying to convey to the viewer, what reaction you want the viewer to have, you have a story in mind you want to tell with your photo. Are you being politically critical, socially ironic or simply telling a compelling story with your photographs? Does your image have historical importance? Is it a reaction to a different art form? Are you asking the viewers to bring themselves to this image and create a dialogue?
If you want a photograph to be liked beyond the 1sec that it will be seen on any of the social media platforms that we all play on, it needs to have layers. If you want your photograph to have resonance and to be enjoyed beyond that first glance, it needs to have enough depth that the viewer will come back repeatedly. Your audience needs to be rewarded for spending their valuable time with your creation; they need to be able to discover connections, stories, techniques that aren’t apparent at first glance.
If you’re taking photographs for your own amusement, and the simple reward of followers and likes are enough, you’re not alone. I’m often one of those photographers since many of my photos are taken simply because I think their cool. But I’ve learned the hard lesson that if you want to create work that someone wants to buy, you need to offer more. For most people the wall space in their home is precious, a simply pretty photo isn’t enough reason to make the commitment, you need to give them an image that will touch their emotions, will make them think, that will offer them a surprise. By using toys we have a built in advantage, the stories are already there, the emotional tug of the heart strings is often automatic, we only need to push it to the next level to be seen as a viable art form.
If you think I am talking to you, that’s awesome, but really I’m talking to myself. I need to learn this lesson and I will be spending my 2016 exploring the back-story of my photographs and trying to create work that is more conceptual in nature. I have proven that I can take a pretty picture, but if I’m going to ask people to buy my work from a gallery then I’d better offer something more than a pretty picture. Call it a value added product.
If this is too much art talk for you, don’t worry I have other posts planned that will hopefully be more helpful to you. As always, if you have any ideas of topics that you want me to touch on, please drop me a line in the comments.