Life as a photojournalist can be a bit surreal at times. You find yourself drifting in and out of complete stranger’s lives. You get incredibly close, as you look to them to share their story. You listen, you feel, and you begin to record a history. There is a great deal of beauty in experiencing the relationships those you encounter have with families and friends, their joys, sorrows, hopes, fears, pains and challenges. It is a search for what it means to be truly human and every fragment; every story adds to your concept of that question. Then you move on. You weave through the world, and your collections of photos make up a strange tapestry of your life.
I truly do believe that every photographer, regardless of age and experience makes images that reveal their unique way of viewing the world around them. It is as if these photos map out the way they make sense of their surroundings.
I am beginning to realize that this is what I love about photography. That it acts as a language to express myself, to communicate that vision through my images. At the same time it allows me to explore and build on the perception I have of what “life” is.
The difficulty is, that as you grow as a photographer, your understanding of the language it presents and what impact it can make expands as well. You begin to offer your expertise to others. You cover news stories, weddings, or any other events with your client’s expectations in mind. You shoot products and even people to conform to some collective consensus of “beauty” and before you know it, some of your voice is lost in the images you make to fulfill the expectations of others.
I think this is the point where most emerging photographers (such as myself) experience a form of fatigue. You lose the initial love you had for the art, because you want to live up to a certain level of perfection, perform to a certain standard, and if you can’t achieve it, then you don’t bother taking the picture.
Don’t let yourself get caught up in this. There is nothing wrong with developing as a professional photographer. In fact, there are many things I could go on about, as to why I love trying to break through into the professional scene.
What is your view of the world? How is your photography representing it? If you feel you are losing some of the excitement you originally had for the medium, try to think about your past and present, and how photography gives you a voice in sharing that. Now go out and shoot for you. Put your thoughts of the expectations others hold of your work aside, and just take some pictures to celebrate being human.
About the photos in this post:
These photos are part of a series I did on human interaction. My assignment was to focus on emotions in the lives of somebody I had not met before. I really love this kind of work, because its giving me a reason to go out there an push beyond my comfort zone, but also to capture something that is an extremely important part of life. I ended up posting an announcement to my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Friends shared them and before I knew it, I had some people that were interested in having me come and photograph family moments. I got in touch with a man who was spending the weekend with his two sons, and so we went on a trip through Kensington Gardens. It was a beautiful day, and something really moved me about getting to experience the joy he felt spending the day with his boys.
The later Photos are of a Man named Bob Cooke, who runs a Pie and Mash shop near Broadway Market in east London. If you are ever in London, or live there, I highly recommend a visit for a traditional London dish (9 Broadway Market Dalston, London E8 4PH). The shop has been in the family for over 100 years, and Bob is very proud of his shop. He told me he was born upstairs, and the business was was only closed down during the second world war. Family portraits running back a few generations adorn the walls, and Bob is very happy to share his heritage. He also insisted I try one of his pies, and gave it to me on the house. I will be returning to him with some prints soon!
It’s never easy getting over the initial fear of asking strangers to photograph something rather intimate like their personal lives. If you are there to take photos, and not give back, they probably won’t trust you in the first place. Think of it as making photos, and know what it is you can give back to them when you are finished. Be it prints, publicity, or even just a chance to be heard.
So to sum up this week’s advice:
– Make time to shoot unprofessional images if you are feeling stuck.
– Take a look at some of the work that came from your early days as a photographer. Ask yourself how it reflects your view of the world. Has it changed?
– Carry your expensive lenses and gear when you are at work. Pack light fore pleasure.
– Try using your phone (if it’s got a camera). Its always there, and you have a perfect mental excuse for not shooting “flawless and professional” images.
– Talk to strangers.
– Gain the trust of others, and they will open up to you. I feel like that is when you will be most comfortable taking photos, and it will show.
– I’ve said it before, but yes, it is a bit weird asking strangers if you can make pictures of them. Get over it. Besides, they usually end up becoming friends anyway.
– Before approaching strangers about making photos of them, think about what you can offer in return. Usually people are very happy to have somebody document a part of their life, and get some images out of it.