I have been thinking a bit lately about how important experience is for me in how I photograph. I'm not talking about one's experience as a photographer. I'm talking about what one experiences as you photograph.
I recently rediscovered my copy of Great Photographic Essays from LIFE. I had had this book from years ago because I had always been impressed with LIFE magazine growing up. In reading through this book, and yes I was reading it not just looking at the pictures, it made me think how important experience, that is, how one experiences the world, was to my photography. For almost all of the photographers shown in this book, their experience of the world was what they were photographing, what they were sharing with the rest of the world. They were not concerned about creating fine art, about winning contests, about impressing other people, but about using their photography to communicate something that was special to them about the world they were experiencing. (This book has long been out of print, but you can find it used at low prices from AbeBooks.com or amazon.com).
This made me think how important this has always been to me. I think it probably had something to do with some of my college education that included learning photojournalism. Photojournalism really is about what is happening in the world around you, how you experience that, and how you translate that experience through your photography. This applies to all parts of our amazing world, not just the bold and dramatic.
When I think back at much of the work that I have done in the past, the things that really made me feel best about working as photographer, writer, and editor were the things that encouraged me to engage and experience the world in new ways. I've always loved learning new things about the world around us, especially in nature, and anything that I can do to better experience that world, to connect me better with that world, is something that I really enjoy. Plus I find it gives me my best photographs, both in terms of what satisfies me and what seem to connect well with others.
Now I know that not everybody is going to think of photography that way – that's OK. I am simply sharing one approach to photography, an approach that is important to me. Some people will see the world as place for raw material for them to deal with in their photographs as fine artists. That's fun for them. Some people just want to create interesting, beautiful photographs for the wall, or images to win contests, or to impress other people. If that's what turns you on about photography, good for you.
I'm not saying that I don't want to create interesting, beautiful images. What I am saying is that the experience of engaging the world through my photography is the starter for me. How I then create my images, what I do with the craft of photography to better communicate through my images, to have better composition, to make sure that my technique is appropriate, is all about controlling my photography to better show off the world as I experience it.
I know that there are other photographers who feel the same way. I sometimes fear that this approach to photography is being lost by the overbearing influence of Facebook and social media on photography. Those places for photography tend to emphasize the ephemeral, the quick glance, the dramatic and colorful, resulting in mostly a quick, more cursory look at images.
I believe there is real value in sharing your experiences of the world through your photography. We all see and experience the world a little differently than others. That experience helps other people connect with you, connect with the world, and often provides new insights for someone else. And you know something interesting? I'm finding that my work connects better with people the more I share my experiences rather than simply showing off a bunch of pretty pictures.
Your experiences are worth sharing. Especially in today's world that can be so polarized and divisive. Photography is one way of bridging that gap because it is such a universal language. When we share our experiences, we share our humanity and that is something that has a great chance of connecting with others.