The importance of understanding the why
One of the most important insights from this project, for me, was the necessity to question the why we are doing the things we are doing. I had always suspected that without an answer to this question, very little could come out of our work. But seeing that so many photographers agreed, and had slowly resolved to answer this question for themselves, made me realise just how important this was. And indeed, building a vision is a journey to self-discovery. Images tell as much about ourselves as artists as they tell about our subjects. In street photography, where subjectivity is king in contrast with documentary or portrait photography for example, this is even more true and required to succeed.
All too often, younger photographers tend to emulate their mentors or idols, trying to impose a style to their work which they believe will attract attention from the audience. But the real work starts after that. The technique, the copying is only there to put the bases in place. After all, no work is purely original, and we all copy someone without intending to because some photographs have marked us and will remain with us. But that is not enough. The difference between talented artists and would-be artists lies in their understanding of themselves and their art. It starts with acknowledging that unless we define what makes us unique, we won’t achieve this level of unicity that is required to have a singular voice in the field.
Succeeding in this journey
The first step in the process of developing a vision is to acquire the technique. David J. Carol notes in his interview that learning the technique was critical to get him where he was today. He’s now able to take the shot of what he sees, just the way he’s intending to – and by doing so, he has removed a significant barrier and can entirely focus on the story unfolding in front of him. Martin U. Waltz explains that in his extravert mode, where he consciously enter the private sphere of his subjects, a lot of practice was required to take the right shots intuitively, leaving intact the experience of shooting. Both photographers have acknowledged the necessity to take away the need to think about the tool, as a way to more centrally focus on the possible stories instead.
While many photographers achieve a satisfying level of technicality, we all face the fear of not doing anything relevant. But measures of relevance are hard in the artistic world, and this leads many young photographers to emulate their mentors versus developing their own style. As Rohit Vohra highlights, “As a mentor, your students tend to emulate your work without trying to be themselves. They can see now through social media what works, what’s trending, and that influences them to produce the same images than everyone else. At some point in their career, they will need to learn to make photographs for themselves, and to turn away from their peers and mentors. But that takes courage, because it’s safer to copy the best versus suggesting a different way.”
Knowing the why: photographers’ testimonies
“I am a gatherer of raw material. I am inspired by the flow, by the moment. My work has a clear intent: creating beauty out of the mundane. I then look for patterns emerging from the raw material – an ever changing narrative between myself and my work.” Martin U. Waltz
“When I shoot, I feel unconstrained and a sense of joyful freedom that allows me to do what I want. I don’t reflect on what I do – my mind is constantly searching for the next shot. I trust my instincts to lead the way, and I never plan, which is part of the joy I take from the experience.” Mike Lee
“I shoot for myself, it makes me happy. I am not a greedy shooter like a lot of photographers I know. I am happy to step out and come back without a shot. I shoot very little now and only press the shutter when a scene intrigues me, if it moves me or if I see something unusual. The urge is to capture that moment, not necessarily to share it with the world.” Rohit Vohra
“I’ve always been an obsessive maker of things, photography makes a continuation of that possible in a life leaning towards having fewer actual things. At this point, making more stuff seems unsustainable, so making photos is a fabulous way to indulge in creative gluttony. There is also the ineffable pleasure of walking through the streets of New York City. Everyday here is history in the making, and I am so fortunate to be experiencing it.” Melissa Breyer
“As a man who has non sexual fetish for faces, my photographic interests revolves around human micro expressions. I am interested in situational photography, which really is an umbrella term to include candid, social, documentary photographs of people.” Arek Rataj
“A street photographer believes in the power of coincidence. I became a street photographer to bring myself back into the moment” Rammy Narula
Case study: Rohit Vohra
In 2004, when Rohit Vohra got his kids, it all came back to him: the joy, the experience, the value of having images for the future. Photography became his break, his “me time” and getting the results had never been the point for him. The camera in fact is a tool against shyness for Rohit - with a camera, he becomes more social, want to travel and discover the world. He becomes another person, more social and extraverted.
For Rohit, finding his voice in street photography is all about creativity – and creativity is the contrary of predictability. In fact, a few years back his mentor commented that his B&W photography was now easily recognizable: “That made me uncomfortable rather than making me happy. I don’t like being predictable and I didn’t want to be a slave to a style and got back to color. I like doing new things and experiment a lot.“ Now a mentor himself, Rohit aims to support younger photographers in their quest to finding themselves artistically, whatever risks they need to take to get there.
- A vision is not about how we take pictures, but why we take pictures on the first place.
- There’s a learning curve for each artist where they’ve got first to learn the technique, send imitate their mentors / peers and finally detach themselves to find their unicity
- Mastering the technique is critical to allow ourselves to focus exclusively on the elements of the story as it happens, not on how to take the shot
- Imitating our mentors and peers is oftentimes a necessary step before developing a unique style. However, social media makes it harder to define a unique style, as copying what works appears the safer option
- Finding a style or voice doesn’t mean that we need to stop searching and challenging oneself. Some photographers thrive on constant challenges of their style