In the last post, I talked a bit about how a photojournalistic approach has helped me “get the shot” in varied conditions. A photojournalistic approach is about communicating how you connect with your subject so that others can, too. I happen to love that approach and you will see it in much of my work.
Not everyone likes that approach. There are many approaches to photography, but one of the most common is looking at each image as art first. My friend Art Wolfe is truly an artist who takes this approach. He is one of the finest photographic artists I have ever known. Every one of his images have been carefully crafted based on his background in art. And they are beautiful! (This photo is from The Art of the Photograph that Art and I did. Art’s website is at artwolfe.com. You can call 888-973-0011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to license this image or purchase a limited edition print.)
Now what happens when two photographers get together to discuss images and they have very different approaches, such as an art first bias or a photojournalistic bias? There is a natural tendency to be critical of work done by the “other” approach, often more so than of work done by folks with a similar inclination. Psychologically, we are hard-wired to favor things that connect with our world view, so if our world view is based on art, we may have little patience with someone else’s world view based on photojournalism.
(I want to be clear that this is not necessarily an either/or idea. Folks doing a photojournalistic approach may create art, and those doing an art approach may look for photojournalistic elements.)
There is a very strong bias toward the art approach among photographers, especially among folks who do critiques at camera clubs. So much photography instruction is about applying art ideas to photography, which can be great. I do work to apply art ideas to my work as well.
But the problem comes when people start making arbitrary judgements about work that doesn’t fit their world view of what photography “should be.” This can make people uncomfortable following their own path in photography when it differs from a pervasive bias. I have given talks to camera clubs showing a different approach at times, and then I will often get quiet comments from some members who feel “relieved” that their photography is okay. The pervasive art bias makes them feel not okay.
The way we deal with this is to take photographs and photographers as they are, not as they “should be” based on our personal approach. Be open to possibilities that you can learn from others, yet still retain your own preferences.
There are more approaches to photography than simply these two, such as documentary, abstract, record-keeping, and so forth. Each approach demands the photographer take different approach to image making. You can still evaluate how well a photograph meets its objectives based on what it is trying to do, but not based solely on what you are trying to do with your work. I try to do that approach in my workshops and critiques, and it seems to work pretty well.