In this final installment of the crash course in photography I want to discuss the goal, the end game, what the point of all the efforts in photography really are. On first review, photography is more or less about making nice or beautiful pictures. But what makes this project interesting and fulfilling to so many people over time? Why don’t we get tired of images? Why do we keep looking?
I believe humans are creatures created in God’s image, designed to see the world around them and act upon it and interact with it to create order and beauty. I further believe that God creates each person with a unique and important perspective or vision to offer the world, to bring to the community of mankind. I believe this is why we keep looking and why we keep taking pictures. We each see things a little different, and photography allows us to explore both the similarities and the differences.
And this is where there is a slight nuance– even here I think the meaning in photography lives in the space between what we all appreciate and what is unique to our own perspective. Greatness comes from seeing what other people see, loving it, and then riffing on it in a way that expands the conversation. A completely conventional photograph is uninteresting, and a completely unique images might easily be unintelligible. The dance of convention with originality is where great things happen.
Which is where I want to suggest a pathway for you as a photographer. Find a way to ground yourself in the understood language of images, and in the tradition of photography. Look at the great images, learn why they are great, imitate them to learn more about them. Get good at speaking the language of images, then push the boundaries, break the rules (only when it makes sense, or when you want to experiment) and make images that are fresh and original. Bring the world the insight that comes from your curiosity, or your special interest. That is your personal vision, and it can become a personal style. Sometimes those personal styles become very valuable culturally, even historically and culturally significant. Whatever the case, they are, in my opinion, the telos– the end goal of your photographic studies and efforts. You are learning competence so you can join your artistic voice to the centuries old conversation about what images are meaningful and what images will tell the stories of our experiences both timeless and historically grounded.