I’ve been photographing the world around me for the past nine years (not counting the year before that where I spent endless hours learning how to use a digital camera and how to compose and expose an image properly.) I used to practice every day and felt incomplete if the camera wasn’t weighing heavy against the back of my neck (kind of like how some people feel when they take their wedding ring off to do a special project, then forget to put it right back on again.) I still look at my camera as one of my dearest friends; it’s been with me through so much and has always pointed me towards new discoveries about myself.
I was probably five years into photography when I started to put together a portfolio of my favorite images and I noticed a pattern emerging: I had an overabundance of single-item images. One leaf, one tree, one bird, one flower – the pattern was unmistakable. I was a single person taking images of single items. Hmm…
Yesterday several of us were looking through some old family images and someone pointed out that I am overly critical of myself in photographs. I’ve always been that way – seeing the flaws that others miss (or never mention.) I think almost all of us are this way. We hear ourselves on a taped message and immediately say, “That doesn’t sound like me!” Then everyone else laughs and says, “Oh yes it does. That sounds exactly like you.” We tend to hear and see ourselves differently than how others see and hear us.
But photographs taken by a particular photographer over the course of time never lie. We see the world in a particular way and, if patterns are searched out, we can tell someone’s work if we know it well enough without ever having to read the name below the print. You would never confuse a Monet with a Van Gogh, right? As an artist, we are unique in how we see the world and how we express it to others. Speaking for myself, I tend to lean towards those single-subject images, with clean backgrounds and simple presentations. When you see one of my photographs next to the others you will see some variations, but many of them will have all the same attributes because I am expressing who I am through this medium and who I am is largely unchanged over time.
The more I’ve learned about photography the more critical I’ve become of photographs – both mine and those of other artists. I look at them with a detailed eye and try to learn from each one – what could have been done better? Lower angle? Different direction? Light at a different time of day? But, in the end, it doesn’t keep me from loving that flawed photograph. If anything, it’s taught me that true beauty doesn’t lie in perfection; it lies, instead, inside the lack of it. I may not love what I look like in photographs but I love how I see the world through them. For me, that’s where the beauty of who I am truly lies. And in my photographs of the world around me I always see the very best version of myself because that is where I am more “me” than anywhere else in this world.
Put a camera in my hand and watch me be me. I guarantee you’ll never see that same smile in an old family Polaroid.