“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind.”
– Dorothea Lange
It’s quite a romantic notion being a photographer, as you are continually looking for beauty in each fleeting moment. It forces you to take in the world differently, and though we can be perfectionists in angles and lighting, you are considering the potential in everything. When you absorb your surroundings this way, life becomes far more bountiful and teeming with promise. Truly, it is possible to find greatness in anything, regardless of how small or meek.
In that sense, it is also easy to spot something that you know others will be drawn to—a plunging waterfall, a glimmering sunset, the Aurora Borealis. These are all images that have been captured time and time again for their natural beauty and automatic appeal. Photographers can become lazy; shooting in a way that is safe, where they know their photos will receive mass appeal rather than a new approach for a genuinely unique photo. This is where Lange’s quote and work comes in. Her photos consist of undeniably heart-touching images captured in black and white photography. Your craft is a matter of fulfillment, a meditative experience where you invest and then lose yourself. As with any art form, its true nature in creation is the most efficacious when it’s for yourself, an extension of your experience, and an expression of your emotions.
Of course with commercial photography there are limitations, but the most successful artists, and those that become famous photographers, are those that continue to challenge themselves to produce increasingly powerful pictures. To become an influential photographer and to maintain deeper meaning in what you’re doing, really think about if you were never to see again. Is this the last thing you would want to see? Is this the absolute best you can do? Is this something you would truly be proud of to represent your work?
There are so many different reasons why we take photos. Whether it’s a matter of preserving a moment in time or for a professional shoot, consider your style and push beyond it, and beyond yourself. There is a rawness to photography that is not seen in any other art form—an honesty that exudes, pure and unfiltered. Do it justice. Photography tells a story in so many different ways, but a strong narrative depends on foundational elements that stick. To simplify, what’s the last thing you’d want to see in the moment you’re shooting, if those were your final moments?
Dorothea Lange was an American documentary photojournalist, made famous by her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Her images “humanized” the penalties of the Great Depression and were an influence in the development of documentary photography.
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