Art is a great tool to question the world, to challenge it, to change its traditional structure, to change its preconceptions. Art is a great tool to challenge yourself, to explore yourself and to push yourself to evolve. Art is a great tool to change the status quo of the world. But in order to challenge the status quo of the world through art, you need to start by challenging the status quo in art itself.
So how do you do it, how do you change the status quo? How do you put this in practice? How do you get from thinking to acting?
HAVE THE COURAGE TO QUESTION
Challenging the status quo in art starts with a question. You need the courage to question in the first place. You need to have the courage to doubt, to be different, to look at things differently and to do them in a different way. This is the first step and it cannot be taught, one needs to discover it alone. But I have a tip on how to discover it: Be aware you can make this step.
BE AWARE YOU CAN QUESTION
Be aware of the fact that you can question. You can question everything. What you do, what others do, what is being done. You’ll be amazed the answers you will find by starting to question. You’ll be amazed what you will discover if you start to question your own ideas and beliefs, in the first place. I think an artist has to do this incessantly. That is where he can find new sources of creative energy, where he can find inspiration.
USE ALL YOUR TOOLS
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what I do in photography and how this can best fulfill my artistic needs. I’ve said it many times, and I’m explaining why in my new video tutorial Creating (en)Visionograhy – Long Exposure, Architecture and Beyond, I don’t do photography for the sake of photography, but I use it as a tool. A tool to explore the world and to express myself. To express the emotion I feel and to transmit it. My goal is to make others feel something when they look at my images. This way I know I could express my vision and it was understood.
But how can I best express myself? How can I express all the facets of who I am. How can I question the world through photography, which is what I do in essence, which is my goal in art. Do I have the right tools? Do I have ALL the tools? Am I open enough to all the tools I could use, or am I limiting myself by “obeying” to some ideas, mines or others’, that seem to be right or that are accepted? Do I think freely or these ideas influence me? Why not question these ideas? Why not challenge them and what they represent?
Why not challenge myself? There is absolutely no reason why I wouldn’t do that. On the contrary, that is exactly what I have to do to create, and what I’m generally doing with all the ideas I come in contact with, with all my ideas as well.
But I don’t stop there, at questioning, at thinking “what if?”. I want to go further. I want to act and give a shape to those questions, to that challenge. I want to go from theory to practice. From abstract to concrete. Only then have I created something worthwhile, only then have I walked my talk.
GO FROM THINKING TO ACTING
The quote below encompasses what I believe. It is not enough to think about creating something, you need to actually create it in order to make a statement and change the status quo. This is what I aim in my photography. To change the status quo. To challenge and be challenged. To live artistically as intensely as possible, and to create a living proof of my ideas and fantasy.
“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”
— Theodore Levitt
CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO IN ART
CHALLENGING EXERCISE #1: QUESTIONING A BELIEF
DO YOU NEED LONG EXPOSURE TO CREATE FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY?
Now please allow me to challenge this belief.
I have heard these two notions mentioned together many times. From the moment I started working with long exposure, years ago, this is what I hear most frequently. As if this was a standard. I’ve had students who, in the beginning of our work together had the impression, based on the mainstream belief, that this is all they need to learn in order to create fine art photography. This is how closely intertwined these two notions are, at least at a first glance. I myself love long exposure and find it a fascinating technique to work with, but I’ve always been the one to challenge the status quo, my status quo first of all, and this means challenging everything I do, all the time.
One of the things I challenge is this belief, that you can only create fine art if you work with long exposure. Actually thinking back, some of my most powerful images are not even long exposures, and some of the images that touched me most from other photographers are not long exposures either. This doesn’t mean these images are powerful because they are not long exposure, but it doesn’t mean a powerful long exposure image is powerful just because it is a long exposure. I hope you didn’t lose me here because sometime this kind of reasoning can be confusing, I am told. If you did, no problem, there’s a simple solution: don’t read on. I will forgive you.
But all things said, what I mean is simply that sticking with just one technique, no matter how fascinating it is, can be limiting. It can be limiting for your imagination and vision, it can be limiting for your evolving as an artist. That’s why I never stuck only with long exposure, even if this is what I’m best known for. Because I want to challenge this belief. I cannot limit myself artistically. I need to push beyond what I know and I need to always discover something new.
Because I always want to keep my options open in my photography, you will see some non long exposure work from me in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, I do love long exposure and I’m using it extensively. This doesn’t mean you won’t see any more long exposures from me, but I have too many things to express in photography to stick to just one technique to express myself.
CHALLENGING EXERCISE #2: AVOIDING THE OBVIOUS SOLUTION
HOW TO FIND A NEW WAY TO SHOOT A LANDMARK
So as you might have understood already, the image above is a short exposure. This is one of the most photographed spots in Manhattan New York and I’m sure you know the classical image of this spot with the weathered poles of this old pier going like perfect leading lines into the distance, where you see projected the image of Manhattan.
Of course I have shot that view too, that was the first thing I did when I got there. I always shoot the classical view. It is part of me scouting the location. Here is a quick color version of that classical view and it may become a finished image one of these days.
But shooting this image wasn’t enough. I wasn’t happy. My vision hadn’t been fulfilled yet. I needed something else to challenge myself, and the new point of view you see in this article gave me what I needed. I switched to my long lens, and I started looking for the image that would suit my vision. And I got this. Not with the lens I’m using usually, the wide angle tilt-shift, but with a long lens, not very used generally for this type of photography, and not my first choice either when I shoot architecture. But by changing the way I looked at what I had in front of me I managed to get an image that spoke to me much more eloquently that the classic image of this location was. I questioned the status quo, I questioned my ideas of this place, and the I was free to see in a different way.
There’s a reason I’m caring all around the 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens that weights alone on my camera more than a full camera bag other people carry. There’s a reason I’m carrying a backpack that sometimes weights more than 10 kg and totally beats me after a full day of shooting. There’s a reason for that and the reason is I cannot limit myself. I cannot limit my imagination and I cannot risk when I have an idea to not have the right equipment to make that idea a photograph.
This is why I’m always prepared to shoot both long exposures and any kind of short exposure that I would feel inspired to do. Short exposures, long exposures, motion blur, ICM, wide angle or long lenses, architecture, landscape, street, people, you name it… All that jazz, bring it on! I’m ready!
Further study resources for fine art black and white photography
More tutorials about fine art black and white photography, (en)Visionography, long exposure photography and architectural photography you can find in my extended collection of Tutorials on fine art black and white photography. If you want to read even more tutorials in the future you can subscribe to receive my future tutorials via email.
To study fine art photography with me personally you can take a private workshop or a mentoring course with me.
More about how to create fine art photography, from vision till processing and the final image you can read in my book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, with co-author Joel Tjintjelaar.
Recently I have also released my video tutorial “Creating (en)Visionography – The New Fine Art Photography” a hands-on tutorial studying fine art photography, long exposure, architecture and beyond.
Julia Anna Gospodarou – (en)Visionographer
Julia Anna Gospodarou is an architect with a Master degree, a multiple award-winning black and white fine art photographer, (en)Visionographer, author and sought-after educator, founder of (en)Visionography™ and Photography Drawing™, author of the best-selling book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography (co-author Joel Tjintjelaar), with high distinctions in the most important photography competitions worldwide, published internationally in numerous books and magazines, passionate about beauty and trying to spread it into the world.