“You can’t depend on your eyes
when your imagination is out of focus.”
~ Mark Twain
Illusions infuse our image making. And we tend to believe illusory myths about our photography, despite a lack of factual evidence for their existence. Why does it help us to challenge our photographic illusions?
Without a seismic shift in our beliefs, our old norms and practices can become delusions. Rigid myths challenge photographers who value fresh, creative art. Illusions in our imagination can be insidious when we can not progress beyond them. They limit our growth and make our work stale. This article focuses on three of our current flat-earth illusions in photography. The images seen here, selected from my series about illusory ideas in photography, were chosen to address a central problem in photography. The problem? Rigidity of belief.
ILLUSION ONE: We should separate our selves with brands and labels.
We make artificial distinctions that are meaningless (Canon vs. Nikon, Digital vs. Film, Enthusiasts vs. Pros) . What counts in photography is the bridges we build among us.
Sitting in front of a our screen, we can't see other photographers. If we could, we'd be looking in a mirror. Our separateness, I believe, is but another illusion. We are a democracy of photographers, and so we have more in common in the ways we feel and see. We see another person's picture, and think, “yes, I made one like that.”
Sharing and laughing more, and building bridges of harmony between our selves and other photographers are vital experiences in our image making. It really does not matter what gear a person is carrying. When we photo walk with friends, we take less gear, and more grins.
What matters is the mind, passion, spirit and story-telling we bring alive with our photography. What we carry in our brains, not our hands, defines our photography.
ILLUSION TWO: The gear is what defines the photographer.
The life cycle of a monarch butterfly, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult, is a metaphor for cycles of change for photographers.
Gear itself is not the illusion. An over-emphasis on gear with firm conviction that it makes one a better or more important photographer —this is the illusion. GAS is fine, but over-idolizing gear is an illusion that overpowers my ability to make images.
Making photographs with digital and/or film, it is easy to fall into a trap of trying to define oneself by techniques: “I'm a commercial photographer”; “I'm a HDR photographer.” These ideas can handcuff an image maker. Similarly, defining a photograph as pure, natural or “straight out of the camera,” SOOC, limits its meaning and is an illusion in itself due to the degree that our visual perception changes how we see before we click.
In my early teens, I used film and printed in the darkroom. Later, I added digital. Now I use film and digital capture, a scanner, and make images that never see the enlarger.
Change is inevitable. How we define our vision does not have to over-emphasize our tools.
The craft of photography is letting your tools and vision to evolve; be open to trying photographic tools new to you, from view camera to iPhone.
Does this mean we should not concentrate on a pure approach of using one set of tools? Of course not. Many of the great photographic artists have done so successfully. I only suggest that we do not judge others by the camera they have in their hands, and make time to experience how they see.
About Jim Austin MA: Jim teaches photography in the field and in the Lightroom, lives on a sailboat, writes for Apogee Magazine and the Film Photography Podcast, and shares on Google Plus and Flickr.