Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Point of View

There's a chap, let's call him Daniel since that's his name, hangs about all the photography forums on the internet plugging his photos and blog posts. He's a pretty well known kook. I don't like his pictures one bit and neither do lots of other people.

Mostly he shoots prurient material. Sexual but neither erotic, nor titillating. But why, I asked myself, don't I like it? It's a bit Diane Arbus, and she's OK. Bit of a freak-show feel to it all.

I put my finger on it finally. Daniel's got no point of view. He sees a middle aged biker girl stripping down, click. It strikes me that he just likes tits. That's not a point of view, it's like liking bacon. Everyone likes tits. There's no sense that he feels anything for his subjects, whatever they are.

Now, he would surely explain that as a high level doc photog he keeps his feelings out of it. He's doing "doc". To which I say simply 'Walker Evans.'

Here's a test. When you look at a picture, silently ask the photographer "Ok, but what do you think about that?"

If the answer is obvious, right in front of you, well that's one thing. If the picture seems to throw no light on the question at all, that's another thing, isn't it?

I suppose not every photograph requires a point of view. You could argue that a journalist should be at some pains to not have one. I have a germ of a project rattling around my head that feels like it doesn't have a point of view, and I'm not sure it needs one. It might, though. Still, Daniel's sort of prurient thing does pretty much demand it, otherwise it's just snapshots of tits. If your subject matter is boring, all you've got is your point of view.

A great deal of what we see online, especially in the genre of "photographs for photographers", suffers from the same problem. There's no point of view. It's just a thing that someone pointed a camera at, probably because it looked a lot like another thing. Look at Ming Thein's photos, and ask yourself "Sure, Ming, but what do you think of that?" and see if an answer comes back. It might, for you. Me? I get nothing back. Ming never has an opinion one way of the other about any of the stuff he shoots, or if he does, I sure can't tell what it is.

Adam Marelli wrote a good essay, tangentially related. You should read it.

This is another argument for shooting portfolios. If my opinion of a thing, my idea of it, is that it is very tall, or fantastical, or sexy, or horrible, I have a better chance at communicating that if I show you a bunch of photos. Especially in this day and age, when it is instilled in us all that anyone can get lucky with a single shot.

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