Finding your Voice
I want to talk about finding your voice in photography. It is a very difficult thing I face and I want to talk about a few things that have been on my mind lately in regards to that. You will disagree with what I say and you have every right to disagree but also please understand that it is my view and you don’t have to like it. There will also be portions of strangeness mainly because I am not sticking to any formula for writing. I am essentially writing as the words come out of my mind.
First to start off, I’ll apologize for not publishing posts on a weekly basis as I first said I would. I’m already bad at this blogging thing as I don’t feel anyone is reading these things unless they’re a big popular thing (which I’m clearly not and I know of only 1 person that reads my post) and I’ve tried so many other times before to start a blog and they’ve all crashed and burned. However, given that this is something more of a professional endeavor I am trying to write posts and truthfully this is the farthest I’ve ever gotten with any previous attempt. So this is a small victory for me.
I’ve also been inundated with school work because I somehow thought it prudent to go back to school after not being in a thinking atmosphere since 2009. For those that are saying thats not a long time, kindly go fuck yourself because YOU DON’T KNOW MY LIFE! PLEASE BELIEVE ME! I hope you read that in a comical way. But seriously though, thats a long time and considering immediately after that I was in the Army, that just makes it THAT much worse. Because as anyone in the military will tell you, the military dumbs you down so much so that you become a drone. The aim of the game in the military is finding the lowest common denominator and as my drill sergeants told me “you are not paid to think, you’re paid to do”. So yea, those years in the military has essentially doubled the out of school years.
SO, being in school now and catching up to everyone and trying to not seem out of sorts has been taking up a lot of my “free” time. I did get a chance to go out and hang out with some cool people at an IGDC meet up last weekend which was good. All in all though I’ve just been busy with school really and that has been the main consumer of time lately.
Now, on to the titular topic of finding your voice and let me tell you, I still have yet to find that voice. I know what I want to do, I know where I’d like to be but getting there has proven a bit of a task. I’ll attest this to not growing up in a creative environment and definitely being in the Army did nothing to help with creativity. However, in my family I am the ONLY artistically inclined person. I am the only person who went to school not for a trade but for a passion. I was never guided by how much money I could make from a certain career path (as is shown by my military career). My father however was, that was his thing, go to school for engineering or something technical that will make me money. I HATED THAT! My abhorrence for that kind of thinking is well documented in my family and I felt that it was a subdued way of thinking. Because of that I was alone in my artistic mind and because I had 0 encouragement I would often get discouraged and just give up on anything artistic project I undertook.
My confidence was just rock bottom and when I went to college for computer graphics and seeing just how advanced my contemporaries were, I felt even lower than dirt. I would have all these grandiose ideas for things, but I lacked the skill to bring them to life. My disillusionment hit its peak when during a design course the professor asked us to do something in photoshop to gauge our skills and that we had 1 week to do anything. Now as hard as it is to believe at that time in 2004 I had no idea what the hell photoshop was. I never knew it was a program for design and I spent an entire week running around 2 different campuses trying to find this work shop. When I eventually found out it was a program and all the laughing that followed, I dropped out of computer graphics and went to advertising and marketing. I then decided to learn photoshop on my own and I did.
I still however had no idea of what to do with my new found skill set. I was adequate at photoshop to just recreate something or manipulate something (in the ugliest way) but I was unable to take what I had in my head and transfer it to paper, so I gave up. Shortly after I gave up on design and creativity thinking maybe my father was right that I’m not an artist because no one in my family has ever showed any of those traits, I joined the Army. Now if there is a place where creative people go to die, its the Army and in particular the Infantry. I became an Infantryman February 8, 2011 and all things creative went out the window.
Now don’t get me wrong, some of these Infantrymen, unlike the popular belief that they’re just dumb grunts who don’t know how to do anything except kill (you’re probably thinking of the Marines anyway), some of these guys were so damn smart it baffled me. But being around dick jokes, drunks and the constant need and desire to prove who’s dick was the biggest does only so much to foster creativity.
Fast forward to when I moved down to the MD/DC area and started taking photos more serious and meeting up with other photographers, I started to somewhat get a feel for what I wanted to do more and more. But I was still unable to transfer my thoughts to paper. Then I met this girl Emily (in some of my photos) and I see her photos and I am in complete awe. I then went through her Instagram account (not creepy fuck you) and I saw her growth in quality and it was like damn. But I thought my photos also grew in quality, the difference was she had her voice, even if she didn’t know it. Her photos have a central theme to them and that is, to show as little as possible yet conveying a sense of wonder and intrigue whilst showing beauty in simplicity. I instantly became jealous of her, of her friends and her boyfriend. How lovely is it to be able to know this person who has such a defined photographical voice and not be in utter awe of them.
Now anyone who knows me now, knows that I love portraits. I love faces and I love expressions so much so that if I’m in a group of people, the thing I focus on the most is someone’s face. Regardless of what is going on around them, I will always zoom into someones face. However, I am more enamored by high fashion. I have more of a desire to shoot things with a high production value. I love the scale of it and I love the grandiose aspect of some fashion spreads you’d see in Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, Mirrin and others. That’s what I want to do. Thats what I love.
But again, I am unable to transfer my thoughts from my mind into reality and as such I have yet to find my voice. I have yet to find a way to take what I really want to do and portray it in the physical world. Photographers such as David LaChappelle or Richard Avedon and others (I’m drawing a complete blank on some other favourite photographers) are inspiration and I have matched or exceeded their work in my head, but it means nothing if I’m the only one who can see it and if I'm being honest with you, I don't think my portraits are anything to write home about.
This for me all goes back to my younger days when I was so afraid or shy/introverted or just lacked the confidence to do grandiose things. My failure then and the lack of support has all culminated in my inability to transfer my thoughts to the visual realm and it sucks. I wish I was able to because I’m sure that I would’ve had my own voice based off of what I want to do, not what I can do.
To some people that may seem strange and they’ll say, just do what you know how to do until you can do what you want to do but here’s how I see that. I know the english language, I feel I have a firm grasp on it and the letters that make up words. But because I know how to arrange the letters to form words in English doesn’t mean I can also arrange the words to form words in German even though they (mostly) use the same alphabet. So just because I can take portraits and I should keep doing portraits doesn’t mean it’s going to help me take high fashion photos. The only way learn it is to do it and that is my problem. I hate to half ass anything, whether it’s relationships, work, play or just random shit I hate to half ass anything and this fits into that category.
If I am unable to see something done the way I see it in my head I won’t do it. I have an all or nothing approach and yes I know it is a bad thing and it is something I’m working on.
So when I sat down with Emily to help her organize some of her photos to entire a competition the other night and I saw her stuff, I was just blown away. Blown away by the simplicity, the beauty and the seemingly effortless way she can capture moments that just makes you wish you were there. I want to be able to create a similar feeling with the photos I take and hope to draw people in.
Until then, portraits it is. Until I have found my way of expressing myself via photography I shall stick to what I know and it's such a sad way to go about doing things. But somehow that seems to be the norm for me.
This feels like a sharp way to end this post, but I have almost literally ran out of words to think. So ahh, umm, bye!
Thanks for reading.