If I were to pick a single actor who defines my generation, I think the nod would have to go to John Cusack. Yes, this tells you Millennials out there how old I really am, or those Boomers how young (I’m right smack-dab in the middle of Gen X, for those who care to know). Although I much prefer Cusack as the affably violent Martin Blank in Grosse Pointe Blank than the sappily sentimental Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, his delivery of the line quoted above was one of the finest moments of his career (yes, even better than that iconically stupid boom box scene). This quote inspires my post today.
“Something Blue”—White Sands National Monument, USA. Canon 5DIII, 24mm, ISO 100, f/11, 30 seconds.
It’s a constant struggle for any artist to define his or her work. It’s not an easy thing to do. With so many people taking pictures these days, it is very difficult to do anything original or meaningful. And maybe the world is full of food and sex and spectacle and we’re all just hurtling towards an apocalypse, so none of it really matters anyway. Nevertheless, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do, and which direction I think my work should take. And I bet you do too.
Sometimes, however, it is easier to say what you don’t want to do. So here it goes.
I don’t want to follow any gimmicks or trends. For that matter, I don’t want to start any gimmicks or trends. And I certainly don’t want to hop from one gimmick to the next, trying to stay ahead of the copycats. There’s an old saying: if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it. Well, if it is easy to copy, then trust me: everyone will be doing it. Just like the grunge HDR fad, the Orton glow fad, the pictures of the back of your camera LCD fad, and countless other fads that have come and gone (or come and stayed) over the past few years. That’s what makes them fads: they’re all flash and no bang, superficial accoutrements lacking in any real artistic depth.
“Avian Artistry”—Dorob National Park, Namibia. Canon 70D, 232mm, ISO 400, f/22, 1/320 second.
I don’t want to be constantly trying to wow people with “in your face” moments of over-the-top epic awesomeness, producing nothing less than the visual equivalent of a speeding train driven straight into the ocular cavities of viewers. I’m not interested in only photographing the most insane sunsets and sunrises with bold lines radiating from the foreground leading to majestic mountain backdrops just so I can maximize the number of OMGs I get from people I’ve never met on Facebook.
I don’t want to be one of the Photoshop Wonderboys that have come to dominate online forums, each competing to outdo one another by coming up with the next twisted and contorted digital darkroom caricature of the reality witnessed by the eye and captured by the camera (although more and more these days, reality is thrown out altogether). I’m not interested in being a Lance Armstrong of photography, pumping my photographs full of digital performance enhancements and lying through my teeth about it, all in the name of maximizing the ego rush that comes from having dozens/hundreds/thousands of adoring (and unsuspecting) online fans. I’m certainly not interested in cartoon photography.
“Awakening”—Yellowstone National Park, USA. Canon 5DIII, 105mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1.3 seconds.
Instead, I want to capture something that is real. The photographic process can be revealing—it can reveal the inner essence, or a facet of truth unseen by undiscerning eyes. It can reveal true beauty, and the art which spontaneously arises from the random interactions of our chaotic world. I want to celebrate the subtle moments, and not just the ridiculously incredible. Jacques-Henri Lartigue once said that “photography to me is catching a moment which is passing, and which is true.” Yeah, what he said—that’s what I want to do. Simply put, I want to be a photographer—capturing the magic, rather than concocting it on the computer.
Above all, I want to produce something which means something—if not to others, than at least to me, but hopefully to others as well. I’ve got something to say with my photography, and although I don’t need to shout it, I’m hoping it will nonetheless speak volumes. I want to be the still waters which run deep. I want to plunge down the rabbit hole to see where it leads. I want to strive for a deeper mastery. I am looking for a “dare to be great” situation. I want to be the tip of the spear, rather than just another dull edge. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one.
Of course, anyone can say anything. Doing is what matters. So let’s get out there—we have our work cut out for us.
P.S. Extra points will be awarded to anyone who can identify all of the bonus Lloyd Dobler quotes in this post!