I tape over the logos on my cameras. The underlying idea is that in impoverished places of the world, I want things to look as cheap as possible. But the increasing irony is that among people who are less interested in stealing my equipment, the tape becomes a magnet. The average individual seems to be less concerned with the why or what of the picture I'm taking than with the how. Dynamic images aren’t created by a camera; they are created by individuals who have the ability to see. The camera is just a tool for recording this vision.
Tools, technical constraints, and functional process are fundamental elements in the ‘how’ of creating anything, but in the world of visual communication, similar to all creative endeavors, creating a message that has impact and resonance goes well beyond how. Often by focusing on how, we become blinded to the more important idea of ‘what does this mean’. Good creative photography is really about capturing the chance (moment) of reality, whether that is in studio or documentary work.
A number of newspapers over the last few years have laid off most, or all, of their photojournalists. Instead, they give their writers and editors iPhones with which to gather news photos. The fault of these organizations was not replacing expensive camera gear with simple, functional tools, but rather replacing the minds that understood the what of a photograph with those that resorted to a more simple how — believing that creating images is as simple as pushing a button.
From the outside, the creation of photography can look very simple. The act of photography can be reduced to the push of a button and one can interpret the camera as doing all the work. For example, documentary work on a social issue is more than just heading to the streets to see what you can find. Such a story involves planning, phone calls, assessing various situations and having in-depth conversations, all of which lead to the opportunity to move your feet into the right position, crouch just the right amount, choose the right lens and press the shutter at just the right moment. Seeing and planning for photographs is a combination of patience, perseverance and constant watching. It is both a learned skill and a talent, in which the camera is only one part of the equation.
At Journey, focusing on the photograph and the meaning of image has prepared us for more success. We create a variety of photographs for very different clients and they each want something different, something unique. We have learned that it is helpful to talk with our clients about their goals and desires before suggesting an approach. It has been less helpful to talk early about style or approach, such as commercial style versus documentary, or environmental portraits versus studio. This is partly because once the door is opened to the details of a process every element becomes a question or concern, but also because the how doesn’t inform the why. What I mean is that the same story can be told many ways, but the voice in which it is told shouldn’t be limited by technical considerations, only creative ones.
In the world of photography there are too many variables to plan for. You can work to control every facet, but there is always something left to chance — sometimes it is the energy level of the model that was hired, or, more commonly, the weather when working outside. Even the time of day and cloud cover has great impact on how I approach different scenarios. Part of the creative challenge with photography is embracing the variables and working to create something fully original, even if it is meant to be tightly constrained. So, if a client wants to be involved in the how, it is important to shift the conversation.
The how rarely impacts the why; but when you start with a specific goal, it always affects the steps to making the final product. The tools and the craft are part of the process in visual communication, but the only question that really matters is ‘does the photograph tell the story well?’