WHAT IS MY PHOTOGRAPHY ALL ABOUT ?
From John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs written about the above photograph taken by Lee Friedlander:
The larger, dark figure reflected in the shop window is (obviously) the photographer. Friedlander has made many such fugitive and elliptical self-portraits, partly no doubt because of the easy accessibility of the subject, and partly because of his fascination with transparency and reflection in relationship to the picture plane, and partly because such pictures remind him later of where he has been and what it felt like to be there. The small figure in the bright square over the photographer’s heart is also the photographer, reflected in a mirror in the rear of the store. The man standing by the Mustang (like the donor in the altarpiece) is merely a bystander, wondering what the photographer might be looking at.
It would of course be possible to draw a diagram, with lines and arrows and shaded planes, to explain crudely what the picture itself explains precisely. But what conceivable purpose would this barbarism serve?
I recently participated in a portfolio review and let me start with gratitude for the reviewers. Their time and insight was appreciated. As it goes when sharing one’s work, I came away with new insights. I also came away understanding precisely the backgrounds of each of the reviewers. The printer made suggestions regarding the print quality of my portfolio, the creative director editing decisions and the art writer suggested more text. Some of these new insights conflicted one with another which was also expected. The one thing I naively always anticipate when showing my work is clear answers, either that it is exactly where it needs to be or it completely missed the mark. I look at my work and wonder what am I looking at. Perhaps my work should be this. Perhaps my work should be that. The “this” or the “that” was informed by the backgrounds of each reviewer. And those backgrounds are much appreciated for they should all inform my photography. But still, at the end of the review I am left with the same question I walked in with… What do I do next?
Later that night I spent time with three good friends who are as well photographers and were involved with the portfolio reviews. We drank whisky. We showed our work to one another. We walked to the ocean and we enjoyed one another’s fellowship. For that, I am greatly indebted. The time spent was time spent well. What I do next with my photography did not matter. And just as the insight gained from the portfolio review earlier that day will inform my photography so will that time spent with friends. In fact, perhaps it informs my photography even more so than the review. It clarifies to me that community is important and is probably more important than my photography.
When I focus on community I don’t need to figure out what my photography is all about. No diagrams needed. Like Friedlander’s self-portrait, I can stand in front of a window looking in, the photograph reflecting the relationship I have with others and the relationship I have to the world.