Saturday, 18 October 2008

Emotional or Rational photography

Bring a new rhythm, India, August 2008

I've been reading Paul Butzi's recent posts with interest as he exposes some of his working and thinking. I especially noted the post Close to Home and the reference to Doug Plummer's Stick Pictures (which is really beautiful work). I'm always amazed at Doug's ability/need to connect emotionally with the photographic process for success. In contrast to Paul's use of photography to "figure things out" as he puts it.

Now that I've finished the big editing effort from my India trip, I started thinking about my own process of taking pictures, especially the photos I was taking of street scenes. I seem to pre-think the subjects. By observing what's going on, I get a sense of the things I think will make good pictures and start photographing them. A very analytical approach - I've been described as being "brutally analytical" in my thinking. In retrospect I seem to be separating myself from the subjects, rather than trying to connect emotionally and this is what seems to work best for me. It's not that I'm setting out with pre-determined images in mind, more that I need to figure out what sort of images are going to work before I start pressing the shutter release.

So are there distinctly emotional versus rational methods? And do these methods apply better to certain subjects? Certainly I don't seem to be too effective at the sort of people/group dynamic subjects that Doug Plummer excels in.

Often an analytical approach to composing is taught (especially for landscapes) versus instinctive approach to subject. Is that more effective, or is something lost through lack of connection?

I'm going to stick with the way I do it - I'm comfortable that way, and one can really only produce good images if one is comfortable behind the lens. Whatever enables us to become comfortable is the way to go. Don't look to copy someone else's methods - try to find your own way of becoming comfortable, thus productive.


  1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I think you nailed an essential aspect of my process, the need to connect emotionally to engage photographically. At the heart of that is an awareness of what I am feeling when I am working with the camera. If I'm feeling distracted and disengaged, the photographs reflect that--it's no less a connection however, and it's accurately revealing my emotional temper. In a landscape, I can feel changes for no apparent reason, other than that I feel differently when I place myself in one spot vs another. It's connection with one's own emotional state that is the key piece.

  2. That;s a take on the emotional side that I hadn't considered before: the connection between the photography and personal feeling.

    It's still a "heart" process (rather than a "head" one) and still one with which I'm not familiar.

  3. Not sure about the comfort zone issue. I agree with you that it's nearly impossible to work without a degree of comfort. But recent experience has shown that occasionally being pushed outside the usual zone can be amazingly helpful to seeing new ways of working.

    In June I did a workshop with Bill Allard. Being in my home town, I was able to quickly set up a series of sessions with people I know for portraits - which as a landscapist I hardly do.

    While the series hasn't continued recently, I learned a lot about working in different ways. I worked within a certain zone of comfort, but was mostly outside what I usually do. Allard wasn't impressed with the results, but so what? This expansion of what I am able to do as a photographer was what I got out of the workshop.


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