Know Yourself

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Our artistic work – or creative work – is a mirror of ourselves. It reflects who we are, our interests, what is important in our lives. Or ought to. Because only when we invest ourselves in our work, will it be a manifestation of who we are, whether in a subtle way or more tangible. If we don’t create with our hearts, the result will be both dreary and uninspired. Without emotional engagement and passion our work is going to reflect exactly that. Even when I am on assignment I try to find some way of getting myself involved no matter how boring the subject or the assignment might be in the first place. I use myself, and I try to find some connection I can personally relate to. When I teach my photographic workshops I try to learn more about each participant’s personal interests so that I can better help her or him with finding a photographic project to shoot during the workshop, a project that she or he can related to.

At best your creative expression becomes an extension of yourself. Just as whatever you say reflects who you are, so it does for all other ways of expressing yourself. And just as with language, the more you know where you stand and who you are, the better you are able to express your opinions. If you are a photographer – but it applies equally to all other means of artistic expressions – you will be able to engage the viewer, only if you are engaged yourself. When your photographs are at best, you are photographing yourself, even when it’s not literally a photo of yourself. I see myself in the way I shoot, why I shoot, how I shoot, what I shoot, and not the least my intentions – what it is I am trying to tell with my photographs. For me to be able to do so, I need to know myself – what I stand for, what I am interested in, what I believe in and what is important in life for me.

Know yourself. That is important in photography, in all kinds of artistic expression as it is in life in general. In his book 25 Lessons I’ve Learned about Photography Life the photographer Lorenzo Dominguez writes this about knowing yourself: «Every photograph I have taken has clearly been an expression of me and my outlook and love for life—an endeavor which details the idiosyncrasies of my perspective, of the elected nuances of light and shadow which at a moment’s notice pique my senses, of the people and the playful pretenses I delightfully wish to remember, and of all the warm and tender moments in my life, which ultimately have surrendered to a single click of a button.»

He continues: «Be aware that the camera is simply an extension of ourselves, and thus you should take care to have your photos reflect who you are, what you see, and what your life is all about, because ultimately your photos are a visual history of who you are, what you do, and where you’ve been.»

Dominguez suggest a couple of ways in how to find out more about yourself. Since this is about photography and your photos should reflect who you are, what better way to do so than making self-portraits? It might be frightening to capture the real you, but if you go about without considering how others might see you and without preconceived ideas about yourself, you might be surprised what you’ll find. Be honest and try to see yourself as you are. For some it will be easy, but many others, if not most, will shy away. Another way to get to know yourself is seeking out solitude. I know with myself, nothing clears my mind as much as being out in Mother Nature all by myself. I find myself and the real me this way maybe after a period of intense work where I have not had time to just be myself. Successful artists, scientists, gurus, and photographers all know that solitude is the sine qua non of creation, discovery and epiphany. And for some, the means to personal salvation. It’s when I have time for myself the great new ideas come about, when I find solutions to problems I have been struggling with and, maybe most importantly, find peace of mind.

By the way 25 Lessons I’ve Learned about Photography Life is a book I really recommend if you are interested in the creative process of photography – and yes, life. Lorenzo Dominguez is an author, a writer and an award-winning street photographer. TimeOutNY calls him a «photography sensation» and NY Times Magazine columnist Rob Walker, considers him a «Flickr star.»

91 thoughts on “Know Yourself

  1. Otto, I don’t want to click the “Like” button and go away but there is so much I want to say in reply to what you have said here, I don’t know how to formulate it in simple comment form just now. . . and as for self-portraits, I remember the purpose of setting up and using precious film if only to find my way out of where I was at the time.

  2. Reblogged this on blogagaini and commented:
    Being true to yourself…
    I’m connecting to this post by Otto von Münchow of Blue Hour Photo Workshops.
    Worth the read.

    «Be aware that the camera is simply an extension of ourselves, and thus you should take care to have your photos reflect who you are, what you see, and what your life is all about, because ultimately your photos are a visual history of who you are, what you do, and where you’ve been.» Lorenzo Dominguez

  3. Greetings…

    Well thought out article that applies her with photography and any profession.

    Passion & purpose. Without it? Forget heading out the door with your camera.

    Always enjoy your posts!

  4. Great post, something I never really thought about is how amazing it is to see how art (photography in our case) is a working part of our lives; reflecting who we are. Thanks for the tip on Lorenzo Dominguez’s book, I will have to check it out.

  5. Självklart är det så som du skriver och frågorna är väl ställda och genomtänkta. Problemet är, som jag har påtalat tidigare är, att de som mest behöver se och läsa, förstå och ta del av dina tankar inte förmår göra det.
    Att känna och förstå sig själv, att ha gått genom livet och lärt sig, lärt sig av både med och motgångar, lärt sig eller tvingat lära sig att bli ödmjuk, att se det lilla och det äkta bakom alla vackra fasader…att i alla fall vara en bit på väg till det ouppnåeliga…att bli en hel människa.
    Jag beundrar dig för din drivkraft, ditt engagemang och jag hoppas verkligen att du får gehör och i alla fall lite förståelse för synen på konsten (foto)…och livet.
    Ps. Kom fram till Banff idag…turistfälla av värsta sorten, tänkte vända direkt…men nu, för en halvtimme sen sprang en Coyote förbi mitt fönster…så jag tror vi stannar…Ds

    1. Det kan godt tenkes at jeg skrive for min egen menighet – og som du påpeker, at de som kanskje hadde hatt mest nyttig av slike tanker, ikke oppsøker denne type diskurs. Jeg liker virkelig det du sier om å være i hvert fall aldri så lite på vei mot det uoppnåelige. Vakkert. Kommer jeg til å oppnå noen form for forståelse? Neppe, men mer enn noe annet er jeg ute etter en diskusjon. Jeg har på ingen måte svarene eller løsningene. Håper ellers du fått en fin tid i Canada selv om noen steder er aldri så mye turistfeller. Takk for dine reflekterte tanker.

  6. Creativity is indeed an extension of ourselves, our vision , our dreams, of what we feel and how we wish others will feel. The 25 lessons is a great read. I will check it out . Thanks for today’s inspiration.

  7. How beautiful your words and introduction of him. You are always amazing. Thank you dear Otto, I take notes always from your amazing posts. Love, nia

  8. Well written and I totally agree. I have talked about this a lot, and I have also written about this things over the years.



  9. Very well spoken Otto. For me, taking pictures is still a big experiment with many routes to explore but it also is, and ever was, a way to express myself. Far more than showing what I see and encounter in the world out there, I also try to visualise feelings and thoughts, to wrap them in a picture as I found that you can sometimes reach people better or easier with pictures than with words. And yes, selfportraiture is a very good and interesting way to look at yourself in a different way and also to find out how you want to be seen.

    1. Your approach to photography is the way to go if you want to touch people with your images. If you can bring you feelings and thoughts into the equation, you will always get strong and personal images. Thank you for a thoughtful comment, Viola!

  10. This is exactly why I have no interest in being a professional photographer. My field of interest is quite narrow, and when photographing things outside it, then my heart is never truly in it. I need to have an empathy, a passion, an understanding of the things I shoot to truly capture their essence and create what I feel is a worthy representation or interpretation of them. Anything else is just a snapshot.

    1. I think all photographers need to have empathy, passion and understanding of their subject to capture the essence, as you say, be it amateur or professional. But yes, sometimes you get assignments as a professional that don’t exactly strike a cord with you. The job then is to find something that you can connect to. On the other hand not being professional surely means you don’t have to do this kinds of photo shoots. Thanks for your comment, Andy!

  11. your words, and the author, Dominguez from his book, makes sense. i think it takes a lifetime to truly come to know who we are – sometimes we find it quickly and others need a long stretch of time. getting involved with creative arts i think helps immensely with self awareness. thanks for a another great article and book recommendation.

  12. Thanks Otto for sharing your knowledge with us. And pass on the true meaningless and spirit that moves us in this world of photography. Will always be a magical ecstasy at that time to produce a shot, then that stay in our memory and photography.

  13. I’ve read this book not just once or twice, but many, many times. It really is wonderful. Thank you for sharing it here, Otto.

    Wishing you a wonderful week ahead.

    1. For me the books is such an inspiration to find you own voice and to go after it with all you have. Thank you for the comment, Lisa! Hope you will have a wonderful weekend.

  14. I have to say you always really get to the heart of what art is and what we do as artists. I’m impressed!

  15. I have experimented over the years with photo self portraits and the most difficult aspect of it for me is getting an image I like. I don’t mean “like” in the sense of making me look way better than I am in real life, but in the sense of letting me look genuine. When I get one I know it, but it’s usually a long road to get there.

    1. It’s the same for me, getting a picture that is genuine and telling something true about yourself (whatever truth it is), is really hard. But it can really be an eye-opener. Thank you for comment, Alli!

  16. There’s not going to be a copy of this book left on the library shelf, Otto 🙂 I love to be on my own when I’m taking photos. I was out with my walking group this morning and took loads of shots of the sea and surrounds for this weeks Photo Challenge. Several of the group couldn’t understand why I took so many photos. “What do you do with them all?” Hard to explain that I do it for pure joy.

    1. If you are not a photographer yourself it’s hard to get what you do with all those photos. But of course, we know, since we know the excitement. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jo!

  17. Solitude has such beauty! Real, reflective, *quiet* solitude, especially. It’s harder and harder these days to escape from even the noises of life that we *like* and appreciate and use, and to truly think without interruption, rest without guilt and renew ourselves without worrying about all of those distractions. I find that even reading your posts gives me back some of that, and I thank you!

    1. Very nicely said. It is hard to let go of all those thoughts that keep us captured in everyday life. All the more renewing we find the space and time to get away from it all. Thank you for the reflective comment, Kathryn!

  18. Thank you Otto for another thought provoking post. So true. Artists must try to make even pedestrian assignments meaningful to ourselves, then there’s a chance the work will carry meaning to others as well.

  19. I feel I’m able to let my heart and eyes soar when I’m out taking photographs by myself, the solitude allows for the release of my muse. Thank you for the introduction to Lorenzo Dominguez, both in book and flickr.

  20. Another posting that really makes me think. It adds another facet to the concept of ‘The Seeing Eye’ and offers another way of explaining what leads me to see the world the way I see it, and why that is different from the way others see it. And as someone has already said in an earlier comment, it is why I could never ever be a professional photographer – commanded by an Editor to take images that I have absolutely no interest in.

    1. I am glad you find the post interesting – and thank you for the positive feedback, Andy. Yes, being professional may sometimes feel like a burden, but even this comes down to attitude. As I have written in a comment above. As a professional you just have to find that connection even in shoots that might not interest you in the first place.

  21. I really like this post Otto. The thoughts and ideas really speak to me and make sense. I can relate to it all so well! It was very interesting to read. And thank you for the book recommendation, sounds like something I would really enjoy reading.

  22. I would diffently say my photos reflect who I am. Too funny you mentioned sefl portraits. I had such taken a few as I needed a new profile photo with my new camera. 5 year with the old profile photo. As I love flowers I wanted to have them around me in the photo. So outside with a mirror I was trying to bury myself in flowers for the photo. But in the end it was the blue sky that I loved in one of my self portrait along with a light flecking of flowers. It’s hard sometime to reveal your true self in closeups. The lines in your face from age and other inperfection you don’t want the world to see. But with the camera I can hide behind it and feel free. Your photo reminds me is the world really black and white. Is there no in between. Thanks for all your wonderful thought provoking blogs on photography and more. Glad I found the time to catch up here.

  23. I love this post. I might even get out a camera and take some self portraits just to see what I haven’t been looking at for a long time even though I’m a painter, not a photographer. Any recent photos I’ve taken of myself have only been what I feel like showing to the world, not what I need to look at within myself. Plus, I completely agree with you about getting into nature and spending time alone.

    1. Would be interesting to see those photos. And, yes, it’s quite a different thing to take self-portrait with the intention of showing your best side to the world and then try to do the same but with the intention of revealing the real you. Thanks for the comment, Linda!

  24. Lorenzo Dominguez’s book sounds like a must read for me.
    I do believe nature does have a very nurturing effect and can always benefit from a walk through the trails but the real nurturing for me comes from water. A beach, an ocean a river, they all have a calming and healing effect on me.

    1. As you already know I would truly recommend Lorenzo Dominguez’s book. No doubt nature has a nurturing effect on any kind of artist. Thanks for your comment, Michelle (hope to see a new post by you soon!) : -)

  25. So much of this rings true for me Otto. As I said when you suggested the inclusion of a figure in my lighthouse photo, people tend not to figure in my photography. It’s not that I don’t like people, far from it but I love the solitude to enjoy this beautiful landscape, it’s my escape and my passion and it’s where I create (a need that must be satisfied). It’s on my own that I do this best, it’s on my own that I solve problems and it’s on my own that I find me.

    1. And I think there is no need to change that. If you do your best work when working in solitude, just keep up with the good work. Don’t change a winning strike as they say in tennis. Thanks for the comment, Adrian!

  26. Interesting post – thank you. I find solitude to be the best way to free myself from the hustle and bustle of everyday and when I’m able to take time to reflect on life and the world about me. It’s also in solitude that I take my best photographs – the ones that ‘speak’ to me the most and hopefully also to others.

  27. What an interesting proposition! To know myself, turn the camera inward. It makes sense. EXCEPT, here’s what I know about myself. I do not do portraits. I do not do people shots. I love to look at other photographers’ portraiture, but I can not bring myself to engage with people on the level it takes to successfully point a lens at them. I go pale when a lens is pointed in my direction which is probably what originally drove me to pick up a camera in the first place. (Best defense is offense?) I have actually tried selfies. But they are HORRIBLE. So, I’ll stick to animals and inanimate objects.

    BTW, I love the image you included in this post!

    1. There is of course no reason to force yourself to take self-portraits. Anyway I think you reveal much of yourself in your photos of animal and inanimate objects. And interesting thought for yourself, though, is why is so hard to point the camera towards yourself. Maybe that would be quite revealing too. Thanks for sharing your experience, Linda!

  28. I recently took a class with a children’s book
    author who uses photographs to illustrate her
    books – I’m an illustrator myself but rarely use
    a camera even for fun –

    How wonderful it would be to go to strange new
    places or old places and see them in new ways –
    then – much like a safari hunter – capture that
    perfect shot – what an adventure you must live.

  29. This is a fantastic post today, and your blog is very informative and thought-provoking! Thank you for paying a visit to mine today…it appears we were on the same wave when we posted about regenerating one’s self.

  30. Dang, you’re interesting. Enjoyed this very much.

    You know, as a teen, I used to really eyeball myself in the mirror! I looked into my eyes, just stared at them some days, and I swear they were sometimes gray/blue, sometimes light blue, sometimes so dark, dark. I just looked into them and thought and thought.

    There is really so much to photography, it’s above my head. But I certainly appreciate a quality picture.

  31. Interesting abstract, and nice article. Of course, our tools are an extension of ourselves, and our reflections an expression of whom we are. Well said.

  32. Another thought-provoking post Otto. From time to time I have tried to view my photos through the eyes of others. I have examined my own archives of prints, slides and files to explore what the images reveal about me – to notice the threads that have remained constant, and to see what, when and how changes have occurred or evolved and to identify where I have reached now.. It is an interesting experience!

    1. It is an interesting experiment isn’t it? And you can learn so much about yourself – and your photography. If we do this kind of exercise on a regular basis our photography will actually improve significantly. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Louis!

  33. Thank you for the book recommendation. I’m looking forward to reading it. I have just started a photographic series of self portraits so this is a great time to come across your blog!

  34. Nice post, so true. In the end it is about creativity. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving alike for ‘Sneaking Up’. I like your work and will enjoy exploring it some more 🙂

  35. Another wonderful post, Otto. I hadn’t really thought about the camera as an extension of myself, but it’s true. As for self-portraits… yikes! I do them occasionally because one of my relatives commented about how my grandchildren or great grandchildren might want to see what I look like, but I don’t find them easy. Thank you for the book recommendation. I’m going to look for it. 🙂

    1. Photography is really a travel into or with your own self, I believe – whether you directly make self-portraits or not. But, no, nobody said that self-portraits are easy, and maybe the extra challenge is what makes them so intriguing and interesting – if you approach the task with honesty. Thanks for the comments, Robin!

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