As part of my everlasting search for understanding and learning more about creative processes, I read as many books that potentially have some insight to the subject, as I possibly can. I read photo books and I read books that are not related to photo at all – as long as there is a prospect of expanding my knowledge about creativity and how it works. Some time ago I read a book about travel photography with the lovely title Spirit of Place. Unfortunately it was less about creativity than I had hoped for. Still it was a fine book, written by Bob Krist by the way, a photographer who among other publications shoots for National Geographic Traveler and Travel and Leasure. It’s a very concrete and practical book, absolutely worth while reading particularly by the travel photographer to be. Lots of useful guidelines, even though some of the technical information is obsolete due to the fact that the book was written before the digital era (it was published in 2000 and is now out of print, but still available second hand).
A few statements Krist brings about in his introduction have warranted some thoughts on my part, since they address directly a lot of how I see the creative process being implemented in photography. Among other assertions Bob Krist writes that «far too many photographers out there are laboring under the false assumption that their personal vision is worth sharing. In too many cases, this assumption is used to cover up the lack of craft». He also writes: «Unfortunately, this emphasis on “Me” is rampant in photography today. It is the reason that much of what is passed off as travel photography is not about the place at all. It is about the photographers and their alleged “personal vision”. I can’t help but agree with Bill Jay when he says, “Most photographers would do the world a favor by diminishing, not augmenting, the role of self, and as much as possible, emphasizing subject alone”».
In contradiction to what Krist deems I believe the strongest pictures always bring the photographer into being. It’s his or her vision that makes them different from similar pictures taken by other photographers. It’s the photographer’s personal involvement with the subject that makes the photographs stand out. It’s through his or her way of seeing the world and the subject at hand that gives the pictures that little extra which sparks the interest and involvement by the viewer. If you as a photographer aren’t involved and get emotionally engaged in what you photograph, the pictures are most likely going to be awfully boring. If you want your photos to have an emotionally impact on others, then you better expect to be emotionally involved yourself. Does this mean that a good picture has to have an emotional impact on viewers? My answer is an unequivocal yes. Even good travel photographs – since that is what Bob Krist writes about in his book after all. There are so many pictures out in the world today that only those which somehow have a more than transient impact on us, will be the ones standing out of the crowd.
With this said I also believe that the personal vision is less something that a photographer sits down and plans how it should be, than something that develops over time. Otherwise it becomes a cover up, not necessarily out of lack of craft as Krist states, but of a true personal style founded on the very essence that is the photographer. As Bob Krist writes himself: «Rather than worrying about whether your vision is personal, you should make sure that it is sensitive, informed, and well crafted». I can only agree with him, so maybe our way of seeing the creative process isn’t that far apart at all, maybe it’s only semantic. As he also says: «The very act of framing a photograph in a camera’s viewfinder is an exercise in personal vision. If you make photographs, you are in fact expressing a “personal” vision». This goes exactly along my lines of thoughts as expressed in my post Everything Has Already Been Done.
My point, really, is that as a photographer you need to pick subjects that engage you. By doing so, your personal vision will be clearly expressed almost by itself. And it’s this personal vision that makes the photographs stand out from the crowd.
By the way Bill Jay is one of the most influential British photographers, widely published and exhibited, who has written numerous books and is extensively used as a lecturer. The book On Being a Photographer written together with David Hurn is one of the best out there about the creative process in photography.