I think that photography and writing are similar in many ways, in that both need to draw the reader / viewer into the artwork.
A little while ago, I went to a gallery in Manchester to see the Vogue 100 exhibition. It was very busy, with a lot of people moving around to see the exhibits (which were stunning by the way!)… I watched the people looking at the photographs there, and in a moment of interest, timed roughly how long on average they were viewed for. Mostly it was for no more than a few seconds – but for some it was minutes. Seats were placed for those who wished to ponder, but were mostly a waste of time, as people stood in front of them.
It crossed my mind that each of those images had taken a long time to make – from conception to publication could have been weeks, and here we were now, giving them the most cursory of glances.
Sometime later, with this in mind – I went to see a small exhibition at Cleethorpes library, put on by a friend of mine as part of his degree project. I had seen some individual images earlier, and hadn’t been very excited by them. However, seeing them all together, as a collective body of work, tied together by a theme, was enough to make me realise that not all photographs can stand in isolation – they need the rest of the work around them – much like a good novel does. If the opening chapter doesn’t grab your attention, you are unlikely to read the rest of the book, or if you do, you do with some small bias. His body of work, I found extra-ordinary. Images of paths wandering through trees, with sometimes no way out. His work, called “Shul” can be found HERE.
Like the writer, the photographer has to have something to say – and it must be compelling enough to keep the viewer engaged. The measure of success is based on how well the photographer would have you believe in his own world. Minor White is quoted as advising us “to photograph not only WHAT it is, but what ELSE it is”.
After I had completed my Associateship panel in Bath last month – the judges all left the room to have some discussion…. in that time, a few people turned around to offer congratulations. However, the first question I was asked, was “How long did it take you to complete the panel?”. My instant answer was “6 months”, but when I thought about it afterwards I realised that although ‘these’ images had taken 6 months – the actual concept had taken much, much longer. I had been flirting with multiple exposures for a number of years, and it was only in this year that the project had come together in the way it did.
I feel sure that writers are similar – plots and sub plots must mature in their minds before pen is even put to paper, and once they start, further ideas, will flow, and changes will be made as output increases.
Going back though to the time people spend looking at photographs. I belong to a tiny group of photographers, who will critique each others images, and spend time looking at them. Recently, we developed a scheme where we ‘borrow’ each other’s images, so we can spend time at home with them, and I have found that some images ‘grow’ on you with time – rather like music can.
My Associateship panel of 15 images was looked at in detail for about 15 minutes by five people – and I suspect that’s the longest anyone has looked at them, apart from me, and my mentor(s).
Which brings me to the whole point of this blog post – which is about time, and about text and titles.
When I judge photographic competitions (which I love doing), not only do I look at the image, I have to rely on the title the author has given it. In providing a title, the things photographed can take on an entirely new context. They can encourage me to view the image in a different way. This is especially true when the theme of the competition is a complex one.
I’d like to challenge photographers out there, to write a short piece about one of their images – explain why they took it, and what story they are trying to tell. Just a few lines. I’m totally convinced that photography generally can be improved once people slow down, and think about what they are trying to say with their images.
I’ll start, and it would be nice if anyone commenting on this blog could do the same.
Taken recently in Western Australia – where the locals think nothing of driving hundreds of miles to get to the supermarket. I wanted to show the long straight roads of the country, with nothing there – no traffic. I wanted the viewer to feel the sense of isolation and remoteness for which WA is known. It’s about feeling, as much as it is about the view.
Thoughts, as always are welcome.