What To Photograph - Everything or Just One Subject?
Have you noticed that photography has evolved into an obsession of documenting everything including the proverbial kitchen sink? If it exists, if we can get to it, and if it can be done, someone out there would have already photographed it. And it doesn't matter if it should or shouldn't be photographed. If it can be photographed, someone would have already taken a picture of it.
It's almost as if the world has become a checklist of possible photo opportunities, and it's up to us, the photographer, to demonstrate our worth by accumulating as many diverse image captures as possible. Only through a portfolio of diverse image capture would a photographer be proven accomplished.
So it comes as no surprise that photographers try ever harder to capture the un-capturible if only to to set them apart from those less committed. Focus thus compels them to trek the lengths of the world, to and fro, atop the peak of Everest and down the depths of the Mariana Trenches, just to get that elusive image that is seldom ever photographed - all for the sake of posting that trophy image on a well curated Instagram feed.
Makes going the extra mile worth it, huh?
But then, when you look at the image - albeit perfectly polished in post - there's something missing in it. The collection of diverse image looks exactly as such - a collection of diverse image. Delving deeper into each individual image, and you begin to see a pattern emerging.
All the images are beautiful on the surface, but empty on the inside.
The thing that contemporary photographers fail to understand is that diversity in image capture is overrated. At best, it is a demonstration of effort in documentation. Fundamentally, going the extra mile to document a wide range of subjects and settings isn't a demonstration of photography. It is a demonstration of effort - in a skill unrelated to art and photography.
Consequently, the resulting images of diversity tend to be homogenized. They all have this similar look of perfection, since each subject, each setting, each opportunity needs to be optimized in one singular image capture to represent the entirety of the photographer's effort. Unfortunately, what's missing in homogenized perfection is any sign of presence from the photographer. It's missing individuality. And it's missing uniqueness.
In other words, picture perfect could have been photographed by anyone. In that respect, it's ironic that photographers go out of their way to make a name for themselves, only to become ever more anonymous.
What might not be entirely evident to most is that historically, art had seldom been about a demonstration of diversity. Rather, the emphasis had always been on exploration of variations. This is not to say that an artist would not jump at the chance of doing something different. But what it does mean is that an artist generally followed the time honored practice of studying a single subject, theme, or setting. In concentrating exclusively or predominantly on one subject, the artist is compelled to explore variations in portraying the same subject.
Exploring variations has always been a mainstay of Western art. We see it with Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Irises, and we see it with Monet's Water Lilies. And the reason why they do this is clear. Through the act of redundancy, the artist, familiar with the subject, is better able to fine tune both observations and techniques, resulting in a more unique level of individual expression.
It is this expression of individualism that we recognize, given how much more genuine it is over superficial crowd pleasing images. Seeing this expression is unavoidable, because of how close the photographer is to the subject. There is clearly an emotional bond, which compels the photographer to portray the subject in a more deliberate way. And in doing so, a glimpse of the photographers' soul is revealed - showing mood, perspective, and intent.
Clearly, my bias is in favor of exploring variation versus seeking diversity of image capture. That is because I believe the individual expression of the photographer makes an image capture unique. At the very least, it means something to the photographer. And if the subject is a person, the image also means something to the subject, given the care taken by the photographer in making the image.
With that said, is it still worth it to overextend one's self in accumulating trophy images for the sake of appearing like an accomplished photographer? Obviously that is a personal question that only you can answer. But you know where I stand on this issue.
All images in this writeup have been optimize in Lightroom, None of the images have been cropped. Images were all shot wide open on the Leica SL.
Thank you Anna for being here.