I just finished listening to Ibarionex Perello’s interview with Ralph Gibson on the Candid Frame. I listened intently during my my ride home from work drinking in the essence of every moment during their conversation. Ralph is a Magnum photographer and a deep thinker who seems to have captured a personal understanding of what and why he photographs. Honestly, I think I’m going to have to listen to the interview a second and third time with a dictionary at hand. There was so much to take in.
Ralph captured me right at the beginning when he discussed knowing his photography from a “point of departure.” Having a focus and theme that drives his photography and the projects he embarks on. He in fact has many points of departure working at the same time fitting his work into the themes that he wants to capture.
It took Ralph ten years to find his personal vision but only three months to gain noteriety once he had discovered his points of departure.
Most of us will never reach the pinnacles that Ralph has in our personal photography. Many of us too are well past the time where we can afford to wait as long to find what calls us to photography. We’ve gone from genre to genre trying to discover the best of the styles that pulls on us whether it’s documentary, street, fine art; whatever it may be.
But what sets you or me apart from the millions of other photographers out there? Will we be noticed for our work? Is that even important to us, to be discovered? And what does it mean to be discovered? What do we hope to gain from being widely known? Do we covet fame? Are we looking for wealth or perhaps a working income. I would say that most of us are looking for a personally rewarding path in our passion to shoot. Riches are not likely to come our way trying to be distinctive amongst the substantial number of people out there with cameras of all sorts. Some of us are well along in our lives not twenty or thirty somethings who at least have the fleeting expectation of time available to mature in their photography.
In fact there may not be anything that sets most of us apart from the millions of other “togs” out there. We can each pursue that distinctiveness that might set us apart but I’m wondering if that isn’t a devil’s pursuit. Chasing a carrot that never gets closer but that continually frustrates and paralyzes us as we try to break out in the public space.
Perhaps it’s better and okay to just shoot what we like to shoot. Ralph makes that point in his interview with Ibarionex. He shoots for himself not worried about meeting others’ expectations. However, he still is aiming to create an emotional impact in anyone who views his images. They may not understand why they like his images, but they do. He is at peace with that. He knows why he shoots what he does. His images have a directed consistency in esoteric themes that he fully understands
Many of us have moved around in this journey with photography. I’ve done it. Moving to and from street photography wondering if I really want to pursue it. Then wanting to do a what I mistakenly perceive to be a relaxed form of street by moving to documentary. It’s a journey of self discovery, all good. But I need to focus and use my experience to understand myself and my photography even if I’m not looking to be discovered whatever that means. There’s no one answer for everyone. No expectations that external pressures should create. Finding the personal vision is an internal exercise that should only be influenced by conscious permissions we allow ourselves. That alone, blocking out the noise, can itself be a personal victory. We can all strive to reach that point of self discovery when we find ourselves through growth realized by our allowed influences and likely missteps along the way.
For those of us who are a bit beyond middle age and who have come to photography in a serious way later in life this can be a stressful journey. Time is not a friend. Patience can be ill afforded. But growth comes with maturity even later in life. We never can waste the opportunity to grow and learn. Perhaps this is a blessing too. Putting yourself up against a hard “deadline” (pun intended) creates a higher sense of urgency and focused purpose. There’s no time to waste, no promise of a long road to saunter.
But my advice to myself is to be purposeful and loyal to myself, to reach my own "point of arrival." Don’t be pulled by the many external influences that pull in all directions that’s so often confusing if we allow ourselves to be open to it. Things like fame, notoriety, or even counting the likes on our social networks. In the final measure, these external influences are often hollow reflecting nothing more than the fleeting moment of someone passing in the night, totally meaningless. Rather, know oneself and understand what drives us to photograph. If we can come to understand ourselves at a deeper level and translate that to our photography then we’ll be successful to ourselves. Being accountable to who we are is the ultimate in self realization in our photographic goals. Taking the time to think about why we love to take images and the reasons why we love certain images is a path to the ultimate personal success and our personal satisfaction with photography. After all, we all want to have a cohesive portfolio that we love first. It’s only a bonus if others like our work, not the ultimate goal to be blinded by.