I wrote a little while ago about my discovery of some very old photographs – thirty five years old – taken when I was a young man.
I referred in that post to my increasing awareness that personal emotional content is the ultimate objective of my photography. This can expressed directly or indirectly, but it means that I am consciously trying to shake off much that I have taken on over the past years of digital photography. I’ve spent a lot time emulating others. True, it has helped my technique and knowledge of photography, but the results are often technically satisfying yet devoid of any personality.
Perhaps this explains why I now feel a deep emptiness when I show – online or in my photography club meetings – a photograph that, largely because it hews to what people expect to see in a ‘good’ photograph, elicits popular acclaim.
At first, I think like many others, I lapped up this appreciation. It’s taken a while to realise that I was being pushed into making pictures for others and not for myself. A professional photographer needs this quality; his or her living depends on it. But I do not make, nor do I want to make, a living from photography. I want it to be true to my vision. Even if that vision generates no acclaim.
The photograph above represents much of what I am talking about. It was taken thirty five years ago. It’s a picture of Venetia, the first woman I slept with, and with whom I had a brief and very complicated relationship.
It’s a scan of old color negative. The original shot – taken with some unknown camera – was underexposed. So there’s a lot of grain noise in this image. Technically, it’s an inept photograph. Emotionally, though, it’s a stunner. Somehow in that moment, I caught an expression in Venetia’s face that summarized the entire wary yet yearning dance that characterized our brief affair. Looking at it dredges up a lot of bittersweet feeling.
As such, even though there is an undoubted element of pain for me in regarding this image, this photograph transcends perhaps 99% of everything I have taken since. Including everything taken when I actually learned what it was to be a technically competent photographer.
The trick now is to move my active photography closer to that type of emotional impact. It’s not going to be easy, not least because my life is settled and the emotional turmoil I felt thirty five years ago is long gone. But I’m not emotionally dead. Different concerns interest me now. These are what I need to incorporate into my art.