Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Total Photographer - Vision


It is useless to study technique in advance of having a motive. Instead of establishing a vast stock of technical tricks, it would be far wiser to develop creative power by constant search for means particular to a motive already in mind, by studying and developing just that technique which you feel the immediate need of, and which alone will serve you for the idea or the emotion which has move you to expression. You will not only develop your power to see the means, but you will acquire power to organize the means to a purpose.In this form of study there will be no less familiarization with what is generally found in all technical study. You will acquire a habit and ability to select and correlate. You will become a master and organizer of means, and you will understand the value of means as no mere collector of means ever can.
Robert Henri

I read somewhere that people take photographs on holidays because in some way they want to own the trip, to have something physical like as if they owned land. There is no need for any vision for this type of photography. Evidence need only be recognizable.

For people who actually look at their holiday images, it is an aide memoir. On my first trip to India, I took a lot of pictures and some images stood out for me. India is a really easy place to shoot, with so much texture and wonderful characters, one only need point a camera with eyes closed to make an interesting image. The images that stood out for me though are the ones that conveyed an emotional trigger. When I first got back my photographs, I had no idea what all of this was about. Actually, the images that stood out were the ones with drama, a boy monk standing in a door way between the light and darkness was one image. This was the beginning of travel photography.

Was there a part of me that wanted to own the trip? Probably. But I liked the idea of adventure. I went inter railing in Eastern Europe, walking the winding streets of Amsterdam and Lisbon. All these were new experiences for me. Taking photographs was also a new experience, an adventure. And I guess my vision for my travel images has always been a sense of adventure. It helped me to find interesting angles and surprising subjects.

The next subject that set my vision ablaze was weddings. I shot my sister's weddings and picked out moments of human interactions. The romantic in me was drawn to the moments when people made contact. Not just the bride and groom, but mother and child, father and son or just friends. I have built a photographic career on shooting moments of 'love', in the largest sense of the word. From the vision, the choice of camera, film, treatment, printing, editing, all followed naturally. My choicest were made to embellish the love ideal.

But the vision that launched my career was that of bodies in dance motion, expressing the culmination of artistic and physical training. I wanted to be a dancer so badly. I watched some of the most excruciatingly beautiful dance when I was studying in London. And I spent a year in the London Contemporary Dance School training to be a dancer. Doing that one year of dance training felt like my body had been asleep all my life and the training was just about waking it up. But I knew that I would not have a career in dance and dropped it. But that love of dance has always been in me. To me there is a power and elegance to a body expressing life itself. And that was the intense drama and life that my performing arts photography tries to capture. There are moments in performances, where all the action and emotions climax, and framing it just right creates an explosive image. So much of my early work is informed by the passion and drama of dance emotion. My lighting and styling is often inspired by what I have seen on stage. And even for portraits in my studio, I will get a musician to play or a dancer to dance.

I have moved on and other visions haunt my dreams and are demanding from the inside that I birth them. But as Robert Henri says, technique is not worth anything without a compelling reason for creating a work of art.

To people who ask me how to improve their photography, my first answer is always to live a full life. Let things inspire you, give you the raw materials that will sprout into visions. And the visions will naturally tell you what you need to learn to birth those visions. And if a photographer needs to practise technique, then practise on a subject that is close to the photographer's heart.

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