An article about why we need vision in photography and how to make your art personal.
I was asked many questions about vision lately by my students and other fellow photographers, and I would like to address these questions and talk about the concept of vision in photography again and also share some tips on how you can make your art personal, meaning original. With this article, I’m starting a series of articles dedicated to vision and creativity and how to use them to create photography that can stir emotion in the viewer.
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As you know I’m often talking about vision, about art and what pushes us to create. I have done it extensively in my book and my new video tutorial, and I am doing it in almost every article I write, every workshop I teach or every lesson with my mentoring students.
How vision can help you create and not emulate?
Why do I talk about vision in photography?
I’m talking about vision because I believe that vision is the most important ingredient of art. Further, in this series, I will tell you why I think like this and why I believe you should start from discovering your vision if you want to create fine art photography, art in general.
Discovering and developing your vision in photography is what will help you move from emulating the styles that you like, to creating new styles yourself for others to emulate.
INTRODUCTION – THE MEANING OF URBAN SAGA III – NINE SHOT VERTORAMA OF EIFFEL TOWER IN PARIS
I’m illustrating this article with my image Urban Saga IV, which is again a panorama. Technically it is a vertorama created by stitching nine photos that I have taken during my workshop in Paris last year.
Nine shots to create an image may seem a lot but the amount of detail I captured blew me away. You can zoom in or print this photograph at 600% and you can still see detail. I captured the image handheld at 200 mm with my Canon 70-200 f/2.8. I would have set up the tripod normally to take this shot but sometimes I just feel like the tripod is getting in the way of emotion and it is slowing down my vision. So I decided to do it differently and use my body and elbows placed on a parapet to stabilize the camera. And it worked very well.
My intention was not to capture a long exposure image because the conditions in the sky were not favorable and there were not enough clouds but for what I wanted to express in this image I didn’t necessarily need a long exposure image.
The dominant element in the entire series Urban Saga is the subject and I don’t want to focus too much on the negative space of the image but on the positive space.. This is why I was not necessarily interested in working with long exposure images for all the photographs in the series. My next image in the series is though a long exposure and you will see it very soon. It is a photograph of the Flatiron building in New York City, one of my favorite buildings of the City. In that case, I considered that long exposure would help to create the feeling I wanted to convey but in some other cases, like in this case in Paris, I wanted to focus more on the subject and lessen the importance of the sky.
The entire series is a story, a saga, as the title says, and it is related to me wandering in the world, searching for things to inspire me, searching for my identity mirrored in the objects I see in front of me. I am creating architectural photography not necessarily because of the objects I shoot, but mostly because this is how I can expres myself most clearly. But my architectural subjects are a metaphor for something else. I am always personalizing my subjects, so the way to look at my images is not necessarily to look at buildings, but to imagine that these buildings are persons. You can find my me among these persons and with the right code you could decipher my entire life. What I’m essentially doing with the images I create is to write my autobiography.
“I have a vision of life, and I try to find equivalents for it in the form of photographs.”
– Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz described the process of using vision in photography in the best way his words explain why vision comes before the photograph and why it is where it all begins. Your vision in photography originates in your vision of life and this is where I take my inspiration from. It is sometimes a subconscious process and some other times I am actively searching for it and I will try to give some tips on how to do this further in this article.
ART STARTS WITH VISION. ART STARTS WITH DESIRE
Art starts with the desire to create and this is what, under the right conditions, creates vision. Vision is born in the human aspiration to explain the world through self, and is the sparkle that leads to the birth of an object of art, be it a fine art photograph or any other object of art.
DESIRE → VISION → ART → FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
Thinking backwards now, I will say that striving for finding your vision is the most important thing in art. Because this is what creates art in the first place. Without vision, there is no art, or fine art photography in our case, no matter how original/impressing/popular/best-selling the subject is, how good your camera and lens are, how much you know about photography and gear, and how perfect your processing skills are.
Vision is the backbone of your work and everything else comes next. No exception here.
HOW DO ARTISTS CREATE?
If you want a confirmation for what I am saying you should go beyond classical photography and look at art. Every remarkable artist has a clear vision, a personal way of seeing the world and he turns it into the objects of art he/she created: either they are paintings, sculptures, drawings, architectural objects, or even musical pieces or novels. What you can see as a common characteristic in all these artists is their soul transformed into objects – this is what made their creations become objects of art – the vision of the artist that gives him the sparkle to create.
All these artists needed to learn their craft: how to paint, draw, design or write and compose. Each of them chose one or the other art depending on where he had more talent and what he was drawn towards mostly. Some of these artists were and are photographers. Those who create more than representative photography and touch art are those who create based on their vision and who start from this and not from a technique, or a subject, or their camera. They use all these as tools to recreate their vision and do not see them as end goals.
These artists are able to express themselves regardless the subject they use, regardless the gear or the processing technique they use. They do need to be proficient in all these fields, because the realization of your vision – the act of turning it into reality – needs other skills too, but they never put their tools (subjects, gear, post-processing) above their vision, they just use them the best they can.
WHY TECHNICAL SKILLS ONLY WILL NOT MAKE YOU AN ARTIST
If you look around you can see many images that are just good skills in photographing or good skills in Photoshop, but that lack life and emotion. They seem to be created without feeling and essence, exactly because they rely only on technical skills. They are not born from vision, they are created without the intention to translate one’s self into an object that will represent him. They have no passion, they have no magic and that sparkle of genius an artist will infuse into his work.
The result is they don’t impress, they don’t move, no matter how perfect the technique they used or their processing skills. They seem as if they were made of plastic.
While other images just jump out of the paper/screen and grab you. They seduce you and you can’t leave them, you need to sit there looking at them till you absorb all the emotion they emanate. These images have the soul of the artist inside. It is clear from the first look. At least for me, it is clear, but I think you know what I mean. This is something that happens when we create following our vision, our own true self and the image we make is a symbolic representation of this. This is what an artist does, a photographer, a painter, an architect or other. They give a shape to their inner self and to the ideas they have: to their vision.
MAKING YOUR ART “YOURS”
Vision is unique and it is what will make your art “yours”. Not the name underneath your image, not the fact that you are the one that produces it but the fact that it represents your vision, this is what makes your art yours.
How do you start doing this: making your work YOURS? The answer is simple: by being clear to yourself. But what does this mean, you will ask? I will try to explain.
I was talking with one of my workshop students recently while reviewing his work and he was asking me how I do for all my images to look like mines, to look like myself, regardless the subject matter, genre (architecture, landscape, motion blur etc.), regardless the series to which they belong and other characteristics that would set them apart in principle.
My answer was:
“By letting my images be mine.”
In other words by assuming my work and letting it unfold without trying to create something specific or something I know from before. By letting go whatever I know, every time I work on a new image and try to re-invent the world. I never try to recreate a certain mood or atmosphere I’ve seen before, but to create something that fits to myself, that comes from within, that represents me at the moment I create the image. Every image I work on is an adventure, is a struggle, it is agony and ecstasy. Every new image is difficult and it is simple at the same time. I feel it and I struggle to express myself, but I also enjoy the process from the first to the last moment. I love my images and they love me back. And I always find the path I need to go on. I may need more time sometimes, but the path is in myself and the time I spend on an image is in large measure trying to “feel” it, to communicate with it, to discover and recreate its story, to tell my own story through light, lines and shadows.
I am my vision, therefore my images are myself.
This is how you can create a personal style, by letting yourself be yourself and your images follow you. But to do that you need to be clear with yourself. You need to know what you want, what you need to express and why.
A fine art image is not only a beautiful image, it is a piece of your soul. It is the manifestation of something that existed even before the image was conceived and that needs a way to manifest itself in the world. This is how you should treat your art.
TOP FIVE TIPS ON HOW TO CREATE PERSONAL ART
If I were to set apart a few guidelines on how ti make art that is more personal and closer to your vision, I would advise the following that helps me find myself in the images I create.
1. Allow yourself to manifest through your work in the most honest way, if you want to really create a personal style and not need to depend on searching for inspiration around you
2. Create a storyline for your image that is inspired by your own life – a story that moves you and could move the viewer through the image you create.
3. Look around you but try to interpret what you see through your personal self and choose from what you see only what resonates with you.
4. Create, don’t emulate.
5. Be yourself and not some other self. Find what defines you as a person and translate it into your work and it will become who you are as an artist and it will create your style.
As Oscar Wilde says: “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. This is so true in art.
In the next article in this series I will talk about how to create original fine art photography based on your vision and on your personal interpretation of the world. I will talk about how to use your subjects to sustain your image and implicitly your idea, and about how you can use symbols in your photography so to create authentic artworks that define you as an individual.
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