I picked up Robert Adams’ Summer Nights, Walking recently, and going through it for the first time felt like a smack on the back of the head. You know my penchance for nightwalking? Well, this book contains a collection of images from a pioneering night walker.
This is a strange book, in that there aren’t any standout images in it, in my possibly unworthy opinion. I’ve never looked at a photography book without one “wow” image in it, so it’s a first. However, when I closed the book, what did stand out was the strong essence of the tale, that lingered. You could say I am biased because of my own fondness for wandering streets at night, but I think it’s more than that.
It’s the power of a good edit.
Each image flows to the next to tell you a story of the streets that Adams travelled. The book as a whole, left me with the flavour of neighbourhoods by night, and the man who walked them.
It’s an edit that plants a distinct story in a certain style, yet leaves the mind free to hypothesize on the associations, environs, and subtext.
This is what I am trying to learn – to tell a story in succinct, certain terms, while giving the viewer/reader room to breathe.
I am trying to absorb as much as I can from books and publications, but I’m not getting very far without applying it to my own work and getting some real feedback for it.
I began the last post from a Dan Milnor quote and I’ll continue with it:
Editing is a real art form. I suggest showing your work to another photographer or editor. Typically we get too attached to our imagery and have difficulty making good decisions. Back in the day photographers worked with pictures editors all the time. Today, people are just moving too fast. [+]
The truth of that makes my heart sink. Even if I had access to another photographer or photo editor who is engaged in a similar vein of image making, and in a position to critique my work, i heartily doubt they’d give me the time of day.
I need the help. Continuous observation and attempts to take away findings from each publication, gallery set, article and whatever other sources I can find is getting me closer to understanding why contemporary photography is ordered the way it is. I would put a set of photos together very differently today than I would have a year or three ago. I can follow my heart as far as my pictures go, but that is not enough. As mentioned in the last post, I’m too close to my own work, and experiences attached to those pictures, to do it well.
I’ve come to the point where I need honest, considered feedback from people who know what they are doing.
I hunger for more of the experience I had with Trent Parke at the Magnum Workshops. Aside from planting in my head, the initial seeds of what it means to create a visual narrative, work with your work in print etc., he also gave me the first honest-to-goodness feedback I’ve ever had about my work. And the content of the feedback was substantial. What he was seeing in my pictures, where I could go with one narrative thread, what the others were. Why the set of photos worked, why they didn’t. What else I could do. Where I’d gone wrong, what I’d done right. And it went on.
The experience was a most enriching one, and rather than forget all about it once the workshops were over, it has changed the way I think about photography completely.
I don’t know how to articulate the power of a good face to face conversation, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have to. The body language, the nuances of tone and all that other good stuff that communicates so much more than just the words. That which allows topics to evolve and continue, pregnant pauses, the excitement of a simultaneous discovery and enthused expression of ideas in the here and now. The simple action of shuffling a bunch of photos around while talking, instead of crafting a paragraph in text that tries to describe, how the second last photo on the lower left corner of page 5 could be better placed just off center on page 3 to create a better flow because of a myriad of elements that need paragraphs of their own.
The online channel has been a source of growth ever since I picked up my first camera with the intention of doing something with my pictures. And it continues to be in its own way.
In this case though, it’s face time I’m craving.
There’s no answer to this one.
I want something I don’t have. I admit it.
What I am aiming to do eventually, is approach a photographer I admire to spare me some time and go through my work. But before I go and waste someone else’s time, I need to brush up on said work. Put together a portfolio of sorts, online, to point said photographer to. Pull a printed portfolio together. Work through all the books etc that I own, do more reading, looking, piecing, unpicking, and practice to maximise my resources.
And then maybe, I’ll be ready to front up to someone without feeling like I’m wasting their time.
P.S. Thank you all for the rousing conversation on the last post, Twitter, and in my mailbox :)