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A nineteen year old with a camera in rural Norfolk. http://rosajoy.com

Monday, 26 April 2010

Some clarification.

Would you consider yourself to be a photographer? As your work largely consists of yourself and your camera on a timer, thus meaning you cannot actually see what you are taking a picture of. If you went for an interview for a photographic course or job then only having yourself as the model doesn’t really show any variation and also it makes you appear vain. I’m genuinely interested in a response x

Hey there, formspringer. I’m so pleased you’ve given me a legitimate chance to explain myself and my photography. I’m going to break down my response into four parts, because in actual fact you’ve asked more than one question.

‘Would you consider yourself to be a photographer?’

What an enormous question. I can answer it simply, though: no, I do not consider myself a photographer. But not for the reasons you imply. I don’t consider myself a photographer because it is not my occupation – it is not the way I make a living. Photography to me is a hobby, a passion, a craft, but it is not my job. Therefore, I am not a photographer.

Someone talked about this on tumblr a while ago. Unfortunately I can’t remember who it was, but they said that rather than calling themselves a “photographer”, they preferred “image-maker”. I thought this was interesting, not least because a “maker of images” sounds far more romantic than a plain “photographer”. It is a better description of what I do, too. I think about, craft, record and edit images. In short, I don’t work; I create.

‘Your work largely consists of yourself and your camera on a timer, thus meaning you cannot actually see what you are taking a picture of.’

Yes, I do often use myself in my images. I’m going to talk about vanity in a minute, but let me address your concern that I ‘cannot actually see’ what I am taking a picture of.

On a very practical level, you are absolutely right. Obviously I can’t physically be in front of and behind the camera at the same time. But I want to assure you that I can see exactly what I am shooting. I spend far more time setting up for a shoot than I do actually shooting it. I make sure I can see exactly what I want to see through the viewfinder before I set up my tripod, and then I regularly make re-adjustments as necessary as I shoot. When I click the shutter, I can see the image which is being produced in the camera in my head.

Of course, if I return to the camera and find something is slightly off (I’ve misjudged the angle, the sun has moved…) I will re-shoot until I have exactly what I want. Trust me when I say my work is not made up simply of “lucky shots”.

For those of you who are interested, by the way, I actually rarely use a self-timer. I set my Nikon to remote release and put it on a two-second delay. This lets me shoot quickly without having to return to the tripod, but gives me time to hide my remote.

‘If you went for an interview for a photographic course or job then only having yourself as the model doesn’t really show any variation’

I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you. Firstly, it would obviously depend entirely on the job or course I was applying for; but we’ll say for the sake of argument that it was a portraiture job. A client would want to see that I can use light, composition and location to produce a good photograph. The fact that I am the subject of a lot of my pictures doesn’t in any way detract from these three elements.

More importantly, I would argue, would be their concern that as I don’t often work with models my “people skills” as a photographer would be lacking. There, I would in part agree – I haven’t had all the experience I would like with working with models. On the other hand, I have had some work photographing others, and I believe I am reasonably competent in getting good shots of people other than myself. If you’ve seen the photographs I’ve taken of Kim or Lucy, you are of course entitled to disagree (but could you refrain from formspringing me those remarks!)

I also disagree with your assertion that because I appear in most of my photographs my work doesn’t show any variation. On the one hand, it is true that my work does not vary widely (you don’t see a lot of pictures of nature or architecture on my flickr stream), but that is because I myself am interested in particular in fashion, portraiture and concept art. All of these, of course, normally use people. However, within those genres there is so much variation to be found.

I try to make the best of the resources I have while staying largely within the boundaries of my own “style”. Yes, I know what you are about to tell me, and I agree: my work doesn’t yet have a definitive element which identifies it as “mine”. But there are elements of similarity in many of my shots; I like to use natural light, rural locations, fashion which adds to a sense of mood, and – most importantly – I like my photographs to portray and emotion or a story.

Those are the similarities which appear in my work; but let me talk to you about the differences. I tailor my shots to fit exactly with what I am trying to say in them. This means that each one is always different. The location, light, perspective, tones, fashion, pose, props and expression (that’s not just facial, but in hands and feet too) are all thought about individually and then brought together to make the final piece.

I’m going to go a little off message here, to talk about a claim that I think arises from what I’ve just said. On flickr you’ll notice that I quite often I include more than one shot in a set. You might argue that this devalues my point: obviously the shot hasn’t been that carefully thought out, then.

I disagree. The fact is that I am not always sure how best to portray what I want to portray, so I often take a (rather ridiculous) number of shots when I’m out. I bring them back and go through them, and sometimes there is one which jumps out immediately. More often, though, I find a few which say roughly what I want them to say, but in subtly different ways. Sometimes I also find that when I put four or five shots together, they show I story I didn’t know I was trying to tell. Those are the ones that appear in the comments on my flickr stream. Yes, there is trial and error involved. But I do think hard about my photographs before I ever pick up my camera.

‘it makes you appear vain.’

It may well. I hate that. The problem is, if this is what people want to believe then nothing I say is going to change their mind.

If you are genuinely interested in this response, as you said in your formspring, then I’ll tell you that I started photography because I suffered from severe acne for eighteen months. At that time it was much easier to be behind the camera than in front of it, as it gave me some control back. Since then, I’ve retained that control in my self portraiture; photographs of me are taken by me, and therefore I have complete rule over which images exist. Photography has given me so much, not least some self-confidence. If you see that as vain, then I guess that’s that.

The issues around self portraiture and vanity are complex and interesting. I'll do a blogpost at some point, because over the months I've been thinking about it a lot. There are some people I need to talk to about it first, though.

I hope this has answered your questions, formspringer.

4 comments:

  1. Rosa, I just quoted your blog in a recent formspring response of my own. Thanks for being so amazing and saying what I wanted to say. :)

    This is what I said:
    Question: i've noticed your pics for a while, and i've seen 4 or 5 i like, the rest are obvious and boring, that wouldn't be a problem if you didn't consider yourself as an artist. ur lack of ideas & ur enormous ego dissapoint me. u're pretentious without meaning

    Answer: Well...I think it's personal opinion, really. Maybe my work isn't to your taste, or you don't find it very creative - but I don't create my work for you. Or for viewers at all. I create my work for myself.

    I appreciate the support and respect that I have received on flickr and consider it to be its own little community. But I don't create my photos to get high views or a lot of favorites or even positive feedback. I create to express my emotions, let voice to my thoughts, and dive into what makes me who I am.

    If that bores you, you don't have to pay attention to my work. I consider myself an artist because I believe that an artist in its most basic form is someone who creates. Someone who takes the time to put their ideas out there and says what they want to say through whatever medium they choose.

    I read something recently about being labeled an "image maker" in lieu of a "photographer" and I liked that idea. I am not technically a photographer because it's not my profession and I'm not technically trained yet (although I do plan to go to school for photography in the future) but I DO create images. I think of my own ideas, learn how to achieve the look I want, take the picture, and edit it. It's a process. A process of creation.

    You can read the blog that I found relevant to this here. It's written by a contact of mine on flickr - Rosa Joy. Her blog will link you to her flickr page. http://stunningmysterycompanion.blogspot.com/2010/04/some-clarification.html

    I echo everything she said, and really - if you have any further questions...feel free to address them to me. :)

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  2. I think you are incredibly strong and deep in your thoughts and emotions, I admire that strength within you. You will be such a success.

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  3. Rosa, I just have to say that your response was so well written and you justified yourself perfectly. I've read your blog and you are incredibly talented and full of knowledge. You are an admirable person and I just needed to let you know what you come off as intelligent and genuine. It seems like a rare find these days.

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  4. I hate how vanity is associated with self-portraiture. It sucks that being comfortable enough with yourself to talk self-portraits is considered vain. Is there really anything wrong with thinking you look good and being confident enough in that fact to take photographs of yourself?

    It made me very happy to read this though. :) It's nice to see someone who knows what they're talking about. :) (Even though I might not be one of those people.) Reading your responses to these questions just makes me respect your work so much more.

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