Over the years I’ve heard countless photographers preach about various topics. Things that, in their estimation, are absolutely MUST DO activities. It’s not negotiable. If you DON’T do them and DON’T sing its praises after, you are somehow less of a REAL photographer.
One such item is how every photographer must read, soak up and praise the gospel of the well known book ‘On Photography’ by Susan Sontag. I admit, it had been on my list of things to get to for quite a while now. I just hadn’t gotten around to sitting down with it.
I was gifted a copy and figured now was as good a time as any, so I cracked it open and prepared to be enlightened by this iconic set of writings on the art and craft of photography.
By the time I was 2 pages in I was scratching my head wondering what on earth was going on here. I read and read, further and deeper into the book. Taking my time to process and think about what was being said in those pages. I felt like I was waiting for the punchline, for the big twist to tie it all together in the end. For that epic revelation that would forever open my eyes in a completely new way of seeing.
It never came.
Thinking about it, I can’t quite wrap my head around why this book is so highly praised? She appears to absolutely despise photography and photographers. I felt like I was getting talked down to and scolded about my own photographic work the entire time. Like I said, I hoped I’d find the punchline, the twist at the end that would actually prove some epic point about how photography is really the amazing medium I know it to be.
But again… it never came.
What did come, however, in wave after wave as I read, was a re-examination of just what it is that I enjoy and appreciate about my own photography, as well as the works of so many others.
There is a special spark of joy that happens when you notice that moment unfold before you, placing your eye to the viewfinder, successfully capturing that moment to live on forever more. It’s a moment that no one can ever take from you, a moment only you bore witness to in that way.
And you now have the gift of being able to share that with anyone willing to enjoy it.
Of course no one else can have the same connection to that moment as you, but that moment triggers memories of other moments that they have enjoyed and you haven’t. Moments that forever exist in their heart and minds eye, and your photograph becomes a gateway to their memories.
It is the most special type of connection.
Maybe it’s a beautiful sunset, a ball on the street, or a glimpse of your hometown as it once existed in that small slice of time.
Possibly it’s a photo of a family member that has since passed and you are brought back to feelings of sadness and grief on your way to the better memories of “the happy times”.
Photography is a journey.
A journey for us, as photographers, as we explore, discover, and collect moments and store them away forever. A journey for those that view our photographs as they step through the gateways and into their own memories and emotions.
I’m not even going to get started on photography as an art, spoilers… I believe it 100% is an art, but after reading Sontag’s ‘On Photography’, the biggest take-away I have is that her apparent disdain for the art-form only served to reinforce what it is that I love about the craft.
The importance in being able to see the world a little bit differently than anyone else. The joy of collecting moments to be shared forever. The satisfaction of knowing there is a part of me left in every photograph I create, there waiting to be discovered by whoever may view that photo somewhere down the road. And even the value and weight of knowing that the photographs I create now may be the only way for someone(or even myself) to access times now long gone as things change, people die, and life continues to churn on regardless of what we do.
Equally important, it reminded me that photographs are not only important to each and every one of us as they help represent the visual story of our lives hopefully well lived, but they are a source of fun and enjoyment. An activity to keep our minds truly engaged and in the here and now of daily life, even when the camera isn’t in our hands. Photographers, at a certain point, can’t help but continue to see. I can’t help notice an interesting arrangement of shapes or the way the light is reflecting and scattering through that window in the living room that needs to be cleaned.
Photography, much like writing and poetry, give us the freedom to squeeze the most out of every second of our lives if we choose. And it allows us to open the door to our story and share it with anyone we choose.
As I said, it’s a gift to be treasured.
So in the end, even if I didn’t agree with much at all of what she had to say and I totally wouldn’t recommend this as a MUST READ for anyone, I DID walk away from reading this with a new found appreciation and motivation to keep creating my own work, so I’m glad I read it.
If you’ve read it or if you plan to, your mileage may vary and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Until then, stay unusual and keep seeing.