Dieting this January? Why not try a visual diet?
The usual January keep-fit videos, wacky diets and celebrity workouts are already doing the rounds. Even the BBC are getting involved this year with a Horizon special on dieting. But what about food for the soul? If we are what we eat could it be we are what we see too?
We are living in an age of digital revolution, where we are exposed to more imagery than ever before. What if the thousands of images we take in on a daily basis stay remain stuck in our psyche. What if those same images have an influence on the photos we take in the future? Should we start taking control of the images our eyes and brains consume?
I believe the photos we take are very much affected by the visual material we digest. On many of the workshops I lead I will often find someone who is already applying certain visual techniques such as the ‘rule of thirds’. They apply this technique without consciously knowing they are doing it or even being aware what the rule of thirds is. I think the explanation for this is that those people have observed and appreciated images that use this concept and then have incorporated it naturally into their own photography.
If it’s possible to develop good photography and image-making skills just through looking and observing is it possible that bad ones could develop too?
In order to try and answer any of these questions we have to first address an age old question, and that is what is a good or bad photograph?
Now, don’t worry or switch off, I’m not going to ramble on for several paragraphs about objectivity and subjectivity and hit you with painful cliches like "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". To me it is quite simple, a good photo is one that achieves its goal, and to achieve that it needs to connect with its intended audience. It could be an image sent to the editor of a magazine or a photo you took of a neighbour’s pet which they will will frame for their wall; if the people you took the photo for are happy with it, then it is a successful and therefore a good photo.
There is of course a world of difference between a good photo and a great photograph. Again, one person’s "great" can be another person’s "crap" but for me, (and I think for a lot of people) a great photo is one that shows something that has never been seen before. In such a digital and visual era this is something that appears harder and harder to do.
One of the things that has always perplexed me is the reluctance of many photographers to share their stylistic journey. It’s almost as if they believe referencing other artists and particularly other photographers somehow compromises the authenticity of their own photography. I remember my own experiences of art college and feeling this real pressure to "develop your own style" and never really receiving much information on how to go about it.
In most music interviews I listen to or read the musicians can’t wait to tell the interviewer about their latest musical influences; from the well-known to the rare and obscure, the more influences the better! Whether it’s Bob Dylan hanging out in working men’s clubs in search of new lyrics or Paul Simon recording an album in Africa after hearing a bootleg cassette tape of South African township music. Great musicians feed off other music and they get excited when they hear something new. It’s what can inspire them to create something new themselves.
If musicians take pride in their musical diet may be it is time us photographers did the same. Here are some of my top five tips for a healthy visual diet in 2015…
1. Increase your appetite through feasting
If this was the first point on a real health diet I’m pretty sure I’d have a best seller on my hands! Increasing your intake of quality images can never be a bad thing. Make a conscious effort to look at more and more images through whatever means you can. Set aside some time each day to research photographs, and build it into your daily routine so that it becomes habitual and you start to do it without even thinking.
2. Cut out the junk
Improve the quality of imagery you take in. Many people choose their weekend papers based on a political leaning or a favourite columnist but why not base your decision on the photography included in the paper and it’s supplements. If you’re unable to avoid viewing bad photography (something that is pretty much an inevitability) observe it and make a note why you think it’s a bad photo.
3. Broaden your diet
Search for new photography that you’ve never set eyes on before. It may be visiting an antiques fair and sifting through old photos, visiting a gallery you wouldn’t normally visit or exploring random hashtags on social networks. The more varied your intake of photography the more references and material you’ll have to inspire your photo shoots of the future. There’s a whole load of photography magazines out there and subscribing to magazines like the British Journal of Photography can also be a great way to discover new photography.
4. Chew your food properly
Take time to think about all the images you look at, study and analyse them. Try to understand what elements appeal and why they appeal. Identify photographs that you don’t like too, work out what it is you don’t like and try to understand why others may like it.
5. Keep a food diary
Whether you use a bookmarking website like Pinterest to collect images or a scrap book of magazine cuttings (I do both), keeping a collection of imagery you like can be really useful. Not only does it serve as a useful log of inspiring bits and bobs but it will also describe the visual journey you’ve undertaken. You might find some photos you loved at the time that now make you cringe, while others might leave you feeling as inspired as the first time you saw them. These logs will give you powerful insights and will also help inform and shape your future photography.
Well that’s probably enough to be getting on with for January, I hope you find some of it useful, you’re welcome to let me know if you do and please feel free to share this post with others.
The first WPT event of 2015 is the Ilkley Moor Photo Walk on the 28th February, if I don’t see you there I hope to meet you at a photo walk event in the future.