I’ve studied all the great photographers. People like Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Imogen Cunningham to name a few.
They and others like them seem to have three common traits.
1. They are all committed. These are people who lived their art. They weren’t casual snap-shooters who picked up a camera every three months to attend a workshop. They immersed themselves in their photography. They believed that each image was important. They lived as if each image were their next breath.
Several of these photographers did controversial nudes. Cunningham did nude photos of her husband near Mt. Rainier. George O’Keeffe was a famous artist in her own right and posed nude for her lover Alfred Stieglitz. These were extreme acts back in those days and are but one slight example of how “sold-out” these photographers were to photography.
2. They were all story tellers. The greats all know that the photograph as narrative is the photograph that lasts. They balanced technical and emotional, while making sure their images portrayed genuine humanity. Their pictures illustrated the world as they saw it – as they would “describe” it to a stranger from a strange land.
In Ansel Adams book – Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs we get some insight into the story behind his greatest pics, and a glimpse into just how important the art of storytelling is to a photographer as well.
3. Each of these photographers were not only committed to photography, they loved it. It’s only through the genuine love of a thing that you can really come to terms with it, know it, understand and apply it at the highest levels.
While love (especially in the context of “loving photography”) is the hardest thing in the world (for me anyway) to define, I think it boils down to finding happiness, purpose and meaning in what we do.
How do you know if you love photography? Think back to your first romantic love. You probably couldn’t stop thinking or talking about the person you loved. You probably planned your day and your life around that person. That “love” of photography is certainly something we can see in the great masters.
Now what if you don’t have all three of these traits? Does that mean you aren’t or can’t be a great photographer? Absolutely not. I simply wanted to point out the commonality of these three traits in the great photographers that I have studied. When I find myself lacking direction in my photographic work, I think about these three traits and try to find a way to inject more of them into my life, my thinking and my craft. Maybe it will be helpful to you too.