Lately, I’ve been pondering my photography and what I want out of photography as art. This is prompted mostly by the ever-expanding Lightroom catalog (it’s just eating away all of my hard drive space). I find myself wasting precious time constantly going back through them, pruning out photos I don’t think are worthy of editing. The more I run into this issue, the more I realize I’m keeping all these photos and I don’t really know why. They’re not particularly outstanding. They have some merit, obviously, or I wouldn’t be keeping them, but they’re not great. So obviously that begs the question (many questions, really): why do I have all these pictures? Why am I keeping them? And why am I taking them in the first place?
I think a lot of that goes back to the expectations I have of my own photography and what I view as other people’s expectations of my photography. I have a lot of photos in my collection that I feel I’ve taken because other people would’ve wanted me to. To explain that a little bit more, for example, I was working on a photo shot in New Orleans–a shot from my balcony, a great city view–so I process the photo, did some Photoshop work and fixed it up really nice. It is for all intents and purposes, a “good photo.” But it’s boring. To me personally, while it may be a good photo technically and perhaps even artistically, it doesn’t do anything for.
So why did I take the shot, first of all. I must’ve seen something in the landscape that made my think, “I should capture this for posterity or whatever.” And that’s great for posting on my personal Facebook or my travel blog to say, “Hey, this is where I was this weekend and here’s the view off my balcony.” Should I have spent so long editing it? Probably not. Second question would be, why am I keeping it in my collection? Most of the picture I post to my personal Facebook are taken from my iPhone. I’ll upload and then delete them. They’ve served their purpose. I’ve posted them, they’re out there, people have seen them and I don’t need to keep them anymore. All they do is take up space now. So the question that I have with a photo like the New Orleans skyline, that I took with my “professional camera” and then spent the time to work on, is why am I keeping if it doesn’t do anything for me, if it’s just a shot that literally anyone else could have taken out their window, fixed it up, and it would’ve looked exactly the same. So why am I keeping it? That’s the question.
I’m not here to take pictures. I’m here to make art. And that’s one of the things I’ve realized over the last few days; I get so frustrated with myself in regards to my own photography and not knowing what to do with it that I just kind of end up not getting anything done. I’ve got folders and folders of pictures that I need edit, but I haven’t because I don’t want to. I don’t see the point. They’re just not interesting to me. And that’s the biggest problem I’m running into right now. Why am I doing this? I think I’ve realized that I take pictures because I feel like I should. I’ve fallen into the habit of making art that I think people will want to see. And that’s horribly depressing to me. Yes, I’ll step outside of my brain every now and then to pursue something because it’s fun and interesting to me, or because I want to try to create something meaningful, but it happens too rarely. I need to change my mindset.
I have two sides to my photography: I take pictures on my travels to show people, “Hey, this is what I’m doing, this is where I’m going,” and that’s fine, but I don’t need to obsess so much over it (especially if I’m not going to use them in a larger piece or art). This goes around to the second reason I take pictures which is to create art, or tell a story, or just do something other than say, “this is where I was last week.” There are a lot of people I follow. I really love Von Wong, mostly for his passion and insane amounts of positive energy. I discovered Brooke Shaden’s work and got to hear her speak at Photoshop World. Along with many others, they inspire me to do more amazing work. I wan to pursue art, not simply photography.
And that’s where I am right now.
The photos that are littered throughout this post are simple experiments with double exposures that I did last weekend. I wouldn’t say they’re particularly good, but I like them. I was having fun, being creative, and trying new things. And that makes me like them even more. The New Orleans skyline photo I talked about earlier? Ultimately, I gave it the treatment it deserved and trashed it. Time to stop wasting time.
Brian, I have upon many occasions been tempted to just delete alot of my “so so ” pictures for like you said they take up alot of room. I keep my best works aside for various projects and often times find myself , when not shooting for the AJ, not really seeing anything I think would be very interesting to shoot. But then, as alot of things do, I come up with something that needs that shot that I deleted either recently or a good time ago. Or like trends go, the picture I deleted would have fit perfectly into the going trend of the time. Sorta like the HDR phase. I do not keep probably 80 percent of what I shoot anymore for one reason or another but the other 19 percent that I do keep are normally what I think are just ok pictures but I feel that someday they may turn out to be something even better. The last 1 percent of course are either my favorites or “WoW Pictures” As you well know the best advice in photography is “when your shooting for a client then you please them, but when your shooting for yourself then please yourself” There are countless millions in this world and probably the majority will never like what I have done but then there is that small minority that will so I please myself knowing that somewhere, sometime, someplace, my picture will be something special to someone else. May even be after my passing but still it will happen. My favorite thing about photography however is the joy I get with trying new things or making someones day by taking there picture and then seeing there reaction. Does it pay? Yes and no. Does it give satisfaction. In my case the answer is Yes it does to both me and the person I show it too. I am rambling now but in short. There are times of high and low and the same is true in the art world. Sometimes you feel on top of the world and other times you doubt yourself and what your doing is even worth the effort. History is chalk full of such examples. Name anyone you admire and they have gone thru it countless times. Hang in there my friend and do as your heart and mind directs. And when in doubt go to happy hour at sonic and have a cup of sweet tea……well that works for me anyways. LOL best wishes
Very well said, Robert. Thank you for the insight! I know a lot of the time I just get caught in my mind, tripping over my own thoughts. You bring up a good point about everyone going through highs and lows. We look up to certain people for what they do and what they create, but they’re just people. We’re all bound by the same insecurities and frustrations. Some people are just better at working through those times by simply powering through. I tend to look inward during those times and in the end only end up filling myself with doubt.
It’s time to power through!
I don’t know how you archive but if I understand correctly there are inexpensive online unlimited storage companies where you could “dump” much of what you are currently throwing out and make a decision about it later, if ever.
I wanted to chime in because you mentioned you think some of what you do is a waste of time. As I know nothing about photography I admit you could be correct but I would point out that when you are editing a photo that ends up discarded you are still honing your skills. Each time you take a picture or edit one you are using and improving all of the skills for the shots you do want to take. In this context it is probably less of a waste of time than you think albeit an intangible. Obviously you have to proceed in a way that makes you happy or it will eventually seem to be a chore. You also need to keep in mind that making art isn’t the same as manufacturing widgets. There will be time periods when you are less productive with “the good stuff” than others. The key is to keep going and to keep developing as a photographer (pun intended). 🙂
Thanks for the comment, Chad! I like your notion of doing the editing for editing’s sake, and I suppose you’re right. Even if I don’t end up using (or even keeping) the photo, it is good practice for shooting and editing. And no worries, I have no plans to give up photography any time soon. I’ll keep on trucking and see what develops. 😉
Also, what are these inexpensive online storage companies you speak of? I’ve looked into a few, such as Carbonite and more recently Mosaic, but they’re outside of my price range (at least for now). Even Dropbox is fairly expensive for the amount of room I would require (we’re talking terabytes, not gigabytes, after all).