Friday, August 22, 2008

Personal Letter to a Newbie

"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that through the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn cam come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The Power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried."

I cringe every time I hear the suggestion "rule of thirds," and think, okay; now we have inducted another newbie into the world of cookie cutter photography. The last thing you ever want to do is to make your photographs look fresh or original when you can make them look the same as Sallie's.

The adherence on any "rule of art" is a sure way to kill any creativity or originality in a child, or in a newbie photographer. And, oh yes, be sure to color inside the lines. I can assure you that those of us who have played this game for any length of time with any degree of seriousness, assuming we have an ounce of self respect, are battling our own introductions to photography, to art through the "rules."

Look at the photographs that get into museums, into art galleries, or the photographs of the highest paid commercial photographers. Look at the photographs from respected photographers not just at the photographs of other amateurs that clog the bandwidth of the Internet. Look at the photographs of old masters, of new master, of who's hot. You will find very few of these respected photographers, old or new, adhering to "rules." They are mostly respected because they did or do not follow rules. They are originals. They see in fresh, original ways and their photographs reflect that. Starting out with rules is the best way I know to stifle the ability to find your on style, to convey what you want to say with your photographs, to be true to your personal expression. Those are all good things to do with your photography. We all have that same innate ability. Of course, you can settle into a comfortable spot in the middle of the crowd instead. But that choice should belong to the photographer not be at the guidance of others.

Frame your photographs the way they look right to you. Sure they may not look like every other photograph you see, but that's not a bad thing. Your first question should not be how someone else feels about your photographs or how someone else sees your photographs; it should be how to you feel about your photographs. Try to learn to see the forms and shapes in your photographs and how they work together or work against each other. Feel the balance of your photographs, are they quiet, raucous, cheerful, solemn, even chaotic and is that what you are wanting to say about your subject. Become aware of positive and negative space, the balance, the mood, the message, all are much more valuable than the rule of thirds. Yes, you are absolutely correct, it is easier to ask how to be part of the pack than to find your own way.

"…that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide… The Power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried." Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance written in 1841 and still true today.

My hope is that you will find your way, but to do that you must go against the stream. Yeah, that's a cliche, that's why I quoted Emmerson.

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