Defining The Photographer
The proper definition of a photographer falls short with its generalization, and seems that there is a finality that leaves no room for expansion. Strictly speaking, a photographer is someone who makes pictures. The definition groups all those who use a camera into a rather large mass, but we know that not all people who take pictures are photographers. There is a deeper meaning that is associated with the noun. It is more emotional and meaningful than that. We want to know what defines a photographer.
After being defined as a photographer (the dictionary version), each photographer is then defined by what makes them, and their work different, identifiable, and outstanding from their peers.
The photographer with experience should be able to be picked out of a crowd of other photographers by the images that they make. Defined by subject matter, colors, exposure, lighting, or even by the poses of the people that sit for portraits. The way a photographer processes images (digitally or chemically) can also have a definitive commonality between the works that they produce. It’s called style. These things are all subject to move, or shift, as the photographer’s level of skill grows, and the photographer’s audience will notice, if they pay attention.
A multitude of blog posts, books, and videos have been dedicated to helping a photographer find their style. Amateurs scramble to hurry the process- to be great and recognizable within months of first picking up a camera. Every wants to be good, and wanting that to happen quickly is common, but it takes time. There will be growth, and style will evolve, but there is no time span or set number of shutter depressions that makes this recognizable definition of work a certainty. Definition, or style, will come- whether it comes consciously or not.
Looking Past The Obvious
Three years into photography, I was frantically searching to identify what made people enjoy my pictures. I was looking for the elements of some type of formula, or a recipe, that would make shooting easier with consistent results.
I had my own way; my own preferences, and the things I thought that were defining my work were not even noticed by my audience. In fact, I was oblivious to what was actually defining my work.
I took on an a High School student as an assistant for a particular model shoot, and at the shoot, we discussed the methods of my lighting, and I explained how I thought it made my work stand out.
He told me, that when looking through my portfolio, he noticed my subject’s eyes first. “They made me look into them, and they held my attention”, he said. This was something I hadn’t realized, although I had seen each pair of those eyes through my lens, during re-touching, printing, and posting. It turned out to be a by-product of my attempts to make sure the eyes were in focus, above all else. I dislike blurry eyes in an image.
There are things in images that define the photographer, and these things reveal to others what’s important to them, and what type of person they probably are. There comes a point that the photographer is recognizable within pictures although they aren’t in them.
Being defined as an artist does have its caveats though. The audience that enjoys the work will expect more of that same work. The expectations grow higher with each click of the photographer’s shutter, and the computer mouse of the audience. They want to be wowed, and if the artist has delivered many times in the past, the audience eagerly waits for something bigger and better. Much like a band that has had several hit records, some attempt to make records to the same formula as their previous top seller, but they may fall short, seem stale, and the fans are disappointed.
Can the artist continue that wow factor naturally? Will there always be a nagging pressure to transcend every time a shot is framed and focused? It will be up to the artist to choose to stay defined by previous work with the inertia of their followers, or re-define themselves, risking losing high ground, and possibly sever the bonds of dedicated followers.
Ansel Adams’ work could be like keywords that are used in an internet search. Words like: nature, Sierra Nevada’s, naturalist, landscape, large format, black and white, and environmentalist. These are terms that define him as an artist and as a person. These words tell us not only some of the technical areas of his work, but also about who he was and what he thought was important. There are works by Adams that are defining, and as I discover and study his images, there seems to be nuances of familiarity to the body he produced; recognizable and identifiable.
Although there are many more words that could be associated with Adams, but the word color wouldn’t be a defining term. Adams did shoot color for several projects, but that work is hardly mentioned or presented as his best.
Each artist must weigh the risks of stagnation, or making that jarring mid-air twist like a cat dropped from waist high, wondering if they will land on their feet. Predictability is safe, but can have ill affects. The photographer must choose.
Will The Definition Change?
The definition of a photographer’s work will change over time, and like the wrinkles upon an artists face that grow in depth and numbers, the face will still be recognizable, but with some changes.
For followers to recognize work, a photographer must produce work…continuously. One picture will not define or impress upon viewers a complete style, voice, and message. It will take a body of work. This body of work will most likely be revealed to an audience in drips- as they are made, and the viewers will make assumptions about the work and the artist in the same manner. They will slowly see the similarities that will bring them to admire the eye, the subject matter, and understand the message intended by the photographer
The photographer should think on a grander scale; portfolio, or a complete body of work- not necessarily one image. There is satisfaction that their audience has grown to know them. and their work over time. There is nothing set in stone, no pre-sets, formulas, or timelines, that can help in the process of the definition of a photographer. No one knows exactly how many pictures, exhibits, posts, or prints it will take to define an artist, but that style, that definition, will come.0