Wednesday evening was an interesting night at the St. Albert Inn as Joel Koop gave his presentation titled “Your Journey & the Record” to the members of the club. You can check out some of Joel’s work below or on his website here. http://www.joelkoop.com/
As he talked about his own journey and how his interest in photography developed (so to speak) he showed us some of his very early images from his days growing up near Nipawin, Saskatchewan. Like most people, in those early days he used whatever equipment was handy and began shooting objects that he found interesting in the yard and the bush near his home.
He shared some of his first attempts trying to capture shots of chipmunks in the wood piles and grouse in the woods with a camera built for capturing less dynamic domestic scenes, more likely consisting of a line of smiling relatives standing in front of grandma’s house after her 80th birthday celebration.
It was a familiar story, similar to my own journey and probably to the stories of many of the club members in attendance Wednesday night. Most of us picked up a camera at one point, started shooting and were soon hooked. Whether it’s the equipment, the creative possibilities or the stimulation to just get out there and capture our little corner of the world and then share what we’ve made with others; we all share a love for photography!
Joel shared a very interesting philosophical point that I think all photographers need to completely absorb into their mind/heart/artists worldview and I will try to pass that along here, hopefully without messing it up too badly. I believe he said it this way, “your life affects your photography, but your photography has to stand on its own”.
It seems to me that Joel is very, very, right on this point, providing that is, that the photographer wants to elevate his/her work beyond the snapshot level. I’m pretty sure that is something all of our club members are shooting for.
Our lives affect our photography. Check, I get that. Our photographs have to stand on their own. What! Not so check! (A bit of a revelation actually) This little tidbit was the salient point of the whole evening, for me at least.
I’m sure that most of us struggle with the emotional attachment that we have with the subject of our photographs. I am constantly remembering as I view my own work. Sometimes I can still taste the coffee I was drinking as I drove at 5:30 am to a little bridge over the Sturgeon River on a July morning in 2006, hoping for fog in the valley floor and dew in the grain field and being absolutely ecstatic to find exactly those conditions waiting for me.
When I look at the images that I took that day, my perception of them is warped/coloured by those memories and it’s a struggle to judge them impartially. Of course I wouldn’t have it any other way, I need those memories, they’re what keeps me going, they propel me out of bed before sunrise (occasionally) and compel me to continually seek out those opportunities.
That, in a nutshell is what makes photography along with many other art forms so incredibly wonderful and rewarding, it makes us experience life on another level. Of course it also makes us miss out on some of what’s going on around us as we fumble with our gear, but that’s a whole other discussion!
Our photography HAS to stand on its own. Our viewers were not present when the photograph was taken, so just as the image was captured by the photographer, the viewers’ attention must be “captured” by the photograph.
We all know the methods to accomplish this, we use composition, colour, storytelling, emotion, detail, lighting, technical excellence, creativity, style, etc. We make choices based on our training, artistic abilities, and a lifetime of experiences and then we present our work and oftentimes are left wondering why people didn’t respond in the way we expected them to.
Our photography has to stand on its own. When the viewer looks at our work, what they see is detached from us, there is no emotional connection that we can rely on to make it interesting to them in the way it’s interesting to us. It’s a tough lesson, but one that we all need to learn if we want our work to be elevated beyond the ordinary.
At one point Joel asked himself a question and it is probably a question that we all ask ourselves regularly, “am I a photographer?” and his answer was, “does it even matter?” Good answer.
You may be like me and have always considered yourself a photographer who pays the bills in some other way. “I’m a photographer who works ______________.” Fill in the blank. It seems reasonable if you’re taking pictures for any reason beyond taking snapshots that you’re free to think of yourself as a photographer. But however you think of yourself in terms of your photography, Joel’s advice is to experiment.
Try everything, if you have a pet; shoot it! (With your camera of course). Shoot patterns, macro, panoramas, landscapes, sports, and whatever else catches your interest. Experiment until you find something that you love and then keep shooting. Go back over the list and try some experimental techniques with lighting, lens flare, movement, etc.
Joel advises us to “let go of interesting things (to you) and instead to search out interesting photos.” If you remember the cardinal rule, “our photographs have to stand on their own” then you will definitely be way ahead of the game as you search out interesting photographs that appeal to viewers who don’t have an emotional connection to you or to your work.
When we’re shooting we need to remember to separate ourselves from the experience we’re immersed in and put ourselves in the place of the viewer. Our audience are likely looking at a print or a screen with no context to draw on and no emotional connection to the image.
The challenge is to find something you love and shoot it in such a way that a complete stranger will take one look at it and love it just as much as you do. It’s a tall order of course, but one worth striving for.
Joel says, “Be kind to yourself and be ruthless with your photos”, and that’s good advice! Thanks for coming out and sharing your work and your thoughts and experiences Joel, it was a very interesting night and it gave us all lot’s to think about.
by Doug Petry