I have written on this topic before and must admit, it’s a hot button for me. Since it’s on my mind I don’t know what to do about it other than to write about it. I am disturbed at the relentless pursuit of something “new” by younger photographers. Don’t get me wrong. I love innovation. I’ve proven it. Nobody stays up with changing communications and camera technologies any more than I do.
But when I hear new photographers say things like, “Ah that’s old and tired. I want to try something new” I am concerned. I am wondering if in the pursuit of new, they forget the most important part of being a creative. To be cool you don’t need to be new – you need to be YOU!
It’s simply in-authentic to do something JUST BECAUSE it’s new – if you don’t feel it in your heart. I saw a beautiful portrait at this year’s WPPI hanging in the print competition. While the younger folks might have called it “old fashioned” I called it “classic.” It scored very well and should have. I am sure the maker was proud of it. I am sure the subject of the portrait and her family loved it. But yet, I heard one young woman laughing at the photo because it used a painted muslin background. She was having a field day attacking both the image and the image maker because that was such a “cliche?” Really? Sort of like her blue hair was a cliche. Seriously. Just because you make a spectacle of yourself ala Lady Gaga or Paris Hilton, that doesn’t make you cool or new. It’s the talent underneath all the tattoos, lip rings, dresses made of meat, hair colors that are off the RGB spectrum, etc. that matter. I understand the need to set yourself apart. And I don’t really care what color your hair is or how many tattoos you have. What I do care about is whether or not your photographs represent your true vision. I care about the artist underneath all the trappings. If you expect me to be impressed with your outrageous attire or attitude, forget it. That’s boring by now.
I want you to use your camera to tell a story so moving that your images arrest me. I want to see that you poured your heart and soul into a picture. I want to see that you tried to use your camera to communicate with SOMEBODY.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re actually doing something “new” anyway. Because most of the time you aren’t. It might be new to you, but it’s almost certainly been done before by someone else, somewhere else, maybe even long before your time.
I remember when the out of focus portraits were all the rage. Then it was ring lighting. Then it was split tones. Then it was cross processing. It doesn’t matter what gimmick you use. Most of the people that used these techniques when they were little known, had no idea they weren’t new. The technique and gimmick can sometimes get in the way of the image.
What matters, all that matters, is the photographs you create. The images are what matter. They are what last. They are memory protectors. They are history for peoples of the future. 500 years from now when you’re dead and gone. Nobody will know how outrageous you were or how edgy you were or how cool you were. They will simply judge you by your work.
You may not like “old-fashioned” photography. That’s your right. But make sure you aren’t just trying to be new for new’s sake. Faux outrage, faux drama, faux attitude may score you points somewhere – but not here. Not in the world where the photograph lives.
If you want to use a painted muslin background or a bale of hey to shoot against, go for it. Just be sure that it’s YOUR idea – that it’s YOU behind it all, not a vain attempt to be outrageous or different or new for new’s sake. Your images will be much more powerful and the respect people have for both you and your work much greater.