I think that after a while, a long while, of being expressive, whether its writing, painting, doing photography for yourself (as opposed to professionally for an editor or client), you get to a point where a particular stream of thinking or consciousness, transitions. A ‘state change.’
Perhaps the result is that a project burns itself out, or you lose interest in it because inspiration for something else comes in from another direction encouraging you to do something different and see something in a different way.
Once you’ve gone through a few of those transitions the “ownership” of a particular way of seeing something loses ground, and the transition is comfortable and easy.
When someone else comes along and redirects some new ideas at you it may be hard to let go of the original thinking. Or perhaps its not.
Ive been a street photographer for 25+ years and some of them I worked professionally as a photojournalist and an editor is usually not a nice way of learning that your work is missing the mark. And what it comes down to is not the work itself but what lies behind it; You, your drive, your motivation and the intention behind it.
For me, as far back as I can remember, everything was encased in a frame, everything was parsed into single definable moments locked in a visual reference point. Memory tastes, smells and memory sounds all come with a picture. They all have a visual reference point, one singularity a moment that stops everything and is entirely soaked up by seeing. A deep memory of seeing my father lean in over me in the sunroom of hour house in dublin, a dangling moble of soft blue dolphins my father having dark grey hair and sideburns a smile and a finger for me to hold. I have no idea how old I was, but that is a single point visual reference from which a memory sound comes from, his voice.
Breaking the heads off my mum’s flowers in the back garden and her coming to me knowing that I did it and making me aware of that fact, a single visual reference point from which a smell and a sound emanates.
There are more, but my point is that I remember through still locked images. a 42.3mm range of vision with a binaural pickup pattern for peripheral audiological vision.
From early on, I was aware of all sounds around me, behind me, right on, and in front, I was aware of visuals and how interrelated they were to the sounds but my interest lay in the separation between the two. Kindergarten, friends houses, Lego, the washing machine, the color of the walls in our house, the way the light dissipated through the Sintalon roofing in the sunroom, the green clock in the kitchen, the hairy tiles, etc..
The thing about photography (I can only comment on photography) is that intrinsic to its nature, is the fact that you have to actually be there to make the picture. And by being there its a mixture of physically being there, and emotionally being in line with the subject matter. The more you do, for yourself, the wider you become, the more you scoop up in your net, the more in line with a wider array of things you become.
Showing something in a picture is nothing without ‘owning’ it; having the natural ability to display that which is already yours to those who do not have that essential affinity to it. Something that is truly and wholly you. Though that does not mean you are exclusive; remaining open is the key, because this is how you got to be there in the first place.
I got the feeling from your work that you were showing us something, presenting something, but you weren’t revealing anything to us.You weren’t letting us in on something that we were in need of seeing.
In film making theres a great learning statement about the construction of documentary; No matter what you make your film about; people dig people, and people want to know about how people function or react to a thing- the thing that you are making your film about.
So to break that down, humans are the reference point. You are a human and the audience has a basic level of instinctual knowledge about what you are and what you are showing them, they just need the blanks filled in. Humanity is a mystery, we all know what we know, but we are all just a fucking mess in the end with some group dynamics thrown in to make the mess even more chaotic and the process of deciphering the essentials even harder.
I believe that your portrait work is work that you are doing because you think its important to be doing something, something that helps you get out from wherever it is you are at. Photography is a shield, and an excuse to be there. I might be wrong, but thats what your work said to me. Im not scorning, I spent 4 years post divorce kicking sidewalks photographing nameless faceless individuals just so that I could find something in those faces that I could connect with. Basically searching for my identity.
What the Webbs basically said to all of us is that what we do we do out of some very basic need, and trying to figure out what that need is is a life long endeavour. But what we choose to do is different to what we sometimes should be doing, because we need to basically be there regardless of having a camera: Go do the work and get to know your people, hang, span time, get involved, get in deep. Become friends with the ones you have affinity with. Dont feel the need to make an image. If it doesnt feel right, then stop doing it and do something that is right.
I think thats a huge difference between photographers and image makers.
The very best deepest projects made by the people we see as the best photographers are people who just go and do what they normally would do regardless of camera, and along the way take some pictures. Danny Wilcox Frazier, Mike Brodie & Mary Ellen Mark are just some really solid examples of immersive work.
If your portraits are of things that you have personal connection with, if your life is of those that you photograph then that is what you should be doing.
Webb used the term “essential insight” and when I pressed him on the meaning of that he wouldnt/couldnt really break it down any further, and basically said to me to figure that part out myself, and what I think he means by figure it out, is figure out what you can connect to and then do it with a camera.
We all know what tastes good and sells good, and we will continue consuming those good things, and eventually we will get to a point where we question that, and it’s our job to try and parse that into images.
i dont have any formal training in photography, only the hard nosed BS from past editors who squashed me into making images that could be used to enhance a piece of text, but what that has done for me is to understand that any information, pictures or otherwise, needs to have a beginning middle and end (Webbs book Under a Grudging Sun, as he showed us was a cycle start middle end where the start is because life is a cycle, and we are all just borrowing time in it.