I follow a few photo blogs. I usually just look at the pretty pictures but once in awhile a title grabs my attention. I read The Importance of Weakness in Photography and it got me to thinking about how I relate to my subjects. It talks a lot about emotional depth in photography. Before I get in to that, we need some of my background.
While in college, I took a photography class in the Village in NYC. (There was a bearded lady from a circus in the class. She would sit on the floor and do yoga during lectures.) Besides the cast of colorful characters, it gave me my first taste of photo instruction. We didn’t cover f-stops and composition. Instead we looked at important photographers and their influence on the field. While I’d already been shooting since I was a kid, it was the first time I truly thought about the mood I could capture on film.
I learned that there are two basic types of photography: documentary and interpretive. The documentary photograph is concise and to the point. It documents a scene and has little emotional involvement. The good photographers were interpretive photographers. These photographers focused on the emotions and experiences of the subject. These are the honest photos. This was the type of photography I wanted to do.
At the time, I was completely obsessed with movement in photos. My goal was capturing people moving, a tree in the wind, or anything in action. (Think of cars blurring by a city scene.) I loved the contrast of movement against the backdrop of old buildings. I shot in black and white. Everything to me at the time was black and white. It was NY. It was gritty. That was my experience.
Years later when I started taking photos of the kids, I wanted them to stop moving so I could get “the shot”. I learned work with it: I’d sit and wait for the shot with the auto-focus lock engaged. I’d shoot with fast film. I could freeze time. But my absolute favorite shots from this time show the chaos of having kids. They are in constant movement. Why try and stop them? I was trying to slow down my crazy life.
So, how did I find myself, years later, wanting perfectly posed photos? I blame you, Internet. You feed me perfection and I eat it up. You tell me my walls, floors, and tables should be white so that my kids pop from the background. You stage neat little scenes (called a flat lay) with just the right touch of whimsy. Social media has influenced my photography to the point where I have a hard time discerning my photos from anyone else’s. It’s easy to get caught up in documenting our lives for the pallet of Instagram. In doing so, we lose some of our honesty.
Sure, the kids are older and don’t run around the yard. We have a lot of quiet conversations now. We laugh a lot. I want my photos of them to be as honest as possible without invading their privacy. I want my photos to do more than document my cup of coffee. Though I will document a cup of coffee now and then, these are not the photos that speak to me. In the grand scheme of things, what will we remember?
My favorite quote from The Importance of Weakness in Photography is, “A photograph is a distilled representation of an experience.” So, what is your experience? Ultimately, what will you want to remember? That’s the photo you should take.