When successes break the rules
Posted by everlookphotography
I write this entry without necessarily coming from the greatest position of strength within the photographic world. Everlook photography is well known enough to have a voice in the photographic community without being one that is ‘revered’ or considered ‘big shot’. I feel that we still rely on rules to convey images in an aesthetically pleasing manner. I do however , write this piece from a position in my ‘real’ profession where the importance of being a good role model has far more at stake than in the photographic world. The questions I would like you to raise today regarding photography are these. What constitutes success for you? What importance do you place on following rules? And lastly, how much do you care about what kind of role model you are?
Success is such a vague and varied term in any field let alone an artistic one. For me success comes at many levels. Firstly, there is success defined by a personal sense of satisfaction that one has created a work of art. It doesn’t have to be a one that others will necessarily appreciate but quite often is. This type of success tends to give one an internal feeling of pride but when not matched with popularity, can also be a source of angst for some. Particularly those with a fragile self esteem. Then, there is success as defined by popular acclaim such on social media sharing sites. This type success is often claimed to be ‘meaningless’ and phrases such as ‘selling out’ and ‘caving to masses’ start to come into play. Predictably, these claims tend to be made from peer review and those within the industry rather than external consumers eg. novice photographers and general public viewing these ‘successful’ images. Then there is success as judged by one’s own peers in a discipline. This level of success is prone to certain trends and also tends to push photographers into practices such as not publishing their best works or modifying images to suit certain competitions.
At a photographic level, it is often the intimate detailed takes on a scene that one derives the most satisfaction from creating . The bold, dramatic , very polished and processed images tend to attract the most popular attention. While lastly, the peer reviewed success tend to be at the whim of the flavour of the month within judging circles. Do all three sources of success align? Most certainly at times. Do they need to be mutually exclusive? Certainly not! Over and above this, most people place varying degrees of emphasis on each type of success and some will ardently argue the point about one being more important than the other. For me, internal and popular successes are more important than critical acclaim. When critical acclaim comes, we naturally still lap it up! What balance you choose is entirely up to your own internal need for fulfilment. Unfortunately, I find that many of the more successful photographers tend to relate to successes as it applies to them rather than those who are following and reading their every word. Discussions are quite often for the ‘already’ successful and often not as applicable to those seeking success or a role model to emulate.
There are many rules in photography ranging from compositional aids, to using methods of focusing, using appropriate apertures, the ‘right’ way to blend exposures etc etc. Are these important? To a photographer learning the trade who may not have a natural eye to begin with, and with limited post processing experience – almost certainly. While this leads to rather ‘formulaic’ compositions of foreground object of interest with leading lines to a dramatic backdrop with wide angled compositions (as an example) there’s nothing wrong with this type of image depending on how one judges success. Currently, at the stage I am at, I am sentient enough to realise that this type of image will likely be popular if processed in the right way (with certain other popular techniques) but will be an image that I silently ‘ho hum’ at simply because I haven’t felt as though I have achieved anything personally. I may have not achieved one level of success internally but externally, popular success is still a driving factor to keep me spending my free time exploring and shooting. There , I’ve admitted it and to phrase this alternatively, “Hi there, my name is Dylan Toh and I have played the popularity game on flickr, what’s your story?”. So, should I be actively avoiding ‘rules’ in order to create something original and should that be my only aim? My answer is no for this one reason: formula and internal success are still not mutually exclusive. There are many scenes where I feel I can break from the usual wide angle composition and have been doing so with more confidence. But likewise there are many scenes where the tried and true formulas still result in the most pleasing result even to my own internal ‘success’ meter. It’s one thing to consider alternatives to the norm, another to exclude them from consideration entirely for the sake of excluding them.
My last point of discussion relates to the inevitable transition to becoming a willing or unwilling mentor if success occurs. I don’t take any personal issue with those who feel confident enough in their work to be making bold statements along the lines of composition meaning nothing , or that formulas should not be followed. In fact these statements are made from a position of great strength and are usually backed up by incredible portfolios which speak true. But, remember that those reading the posts are usually far from that level of proficiency and the message may well be interpreted in a different manner. Many readers are the stage of ‘portfolio building’ and are trying to achieve a form of success through emulation. A degree of ‘idol worship’ mindset occurs whereby anything that one’s idol states is affirmed with comments of adulation and adoration. To this day, I feel that neither Marianne nor I have achieved a level of photographic success which leaves us satisfied but we do realise that we have a fan base of sorts. To that degree, I feel there is some responsibility on our part to speak to those following us at all levels of proficiency.
My final messages of advice are these: Firstly, in order to arrive at the point of breaking rules successfully, one needs to first be familiar with the basic rules from which the successes were built in the first place. Secondly, for those who are already proficient and do not require a conscious application of photographic rules, there’s no reason why a formula might not ‘still’ be the most effective way to capture a scene.
I look forward to some discussion ! If you have any thoughts , please share below in the comments.
Posted on February 14, 2014, in How we..., Photography, Random Musings and tagged attitude, competitions, composition, dylan toh, Everlook, judging, Landscape, marianne lim, Photography, role model, rules, social media, success. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.