As photographers move through the process of making work, there is a natural evolution from experimenting to creating with intent. I think of fine art photographers as falling into one of three stages or levels. The levels are not a hierarchy – it all depends on the goals of the individual photographer.
When any person is first learning and experimenting with a camera, they take photographs of everything around them. They often carry a camera with them and shoot a lot of different subjects in a lot of different circumstances, to get familiar with the equipment and to figure out how to capture an image and have it look they way they intended.
This is so important, and in a lot of ways, it is a stage no photographer really leaves. This is the way a photographer develops not only competency with the mechanics of a camera, but also their eye and photographic style.
If the photographic bug starts to stick, and the photographer wants take their photography beyond documenting their vacations and family, they may consider investigating what it would mean to move into fine art work. At this level, the photographer tends to start looking at the work of established photographers they admire and begin working on a photographic series. In the beginning, they may make work that roughly falls into categories (people, landscape, nature), but over time as they become seriously interested in pursuing exhibitions and other fine art photography opportunities, they begin to create more conceptual work based around a theme.
The distinction between a category and a conceptual theme is important in the world of fine art photography. Contemporary photography dictates that strong work be about something. So beginning to brainstorm project ideas and then go through the exercise of telling a full and compelling story in 20 strong images is a very significant step if your goal is to be recognized in this realm. It is really difficult to tell a story in images where each image could stand on its own and the body of work as a whole does not feel repetitive or schizophrenic.
And then there is the level that I think of as truly “arriving” in the fine art world. A photographer can create interesting bodies of work where all of the images fit together and feel strong and consistent. But then there is the photographer who does this but goes beyond, because they are making work because they have to make it.
Finding a topic that hasn’t been done before is not the most compelling reason to create a photographic project. Why is what you are saying significant and valuable? How are you making the viewer see something in a way they wouldn’t see it otherwise? How are you making them feel something unique or important? What are you making them think about that deserves attention? And above all, why is your voice the best one to transmit this information?
If you’ve got this figured out, you’re golden, and I want to know your work, because you are going to make me feel something. And what other reason is there to look at art?
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