Who am I?
Am I a suit and a clean pair of shoes, punctual and articulate, or am I sleeping in the rain under a bridge in Glencoe? Am I Scottish, British or European? If I drop some money into the cup of a homeless person does that make me compassionate, or do I do that to appear compassionate? Does wearing black make me boring, or daring, a rebel or unimaginative? – Who am I? – You tell me, your perspective of these things defines who you think I am.
Who am I? – You tell me, your perspective of these things defines who you think I am.
Why ask yourself these questions?
I make photographs for a living, and I ask these questions because as soon as we share a photograph, it and us get judged. Other people rate our work, they critique it, they make suggestions for improvement based on their perspective of our perspective and on the most basic level they make a decision of “I like that,” or “I don’t like that.” Judging is endless in photography: Is it photoshopped, is that real, that’s not a photograph, it’s a digital creation, if it’s not film it’s not a photograph etc. Much of contemporary photography is a popularity contest, which leads people to make images that in all likelihood will be popular, following the lowest common denominator principle. Judging is a fundamental of human nature – we do it all the time, usually with our first impression, which people refer to as their gut. “I always trust my gut, it’s never wrong!”
We choose the bits we want to show.
In my mind however, I believe photographs, like words can be a facade; something we choose to show someone else with our intention as a desired impact. Whether they represent the honest opinion of the photographer or the whole story is immaterial. For years I called landscape photography “lying by omission” as we choose to isolate the bits we want to show to tell our stories. How often do we compose the washed up plastic on a beach in our seascapes? There is no guarantee of truth in photography, only the contents of the frame.
I believe photographs, like words can be a facade.
Photographers are storytellers.
I would say the photographers I admire are great story-tellers, taking me on journeys, both literal and metaphorical, emotional and tangible. Do their images give me an insight to their personalities, or their true self? Perhaps, but not necessarily. I try not to judge! I can say I don’t like something, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. What is important for me when I view an image is “how does this make me feel?”
How does this make me feel?
How does it make them feel?
When people view our work what type of words are they going to use to describe how they feel? “I love the mood, the energy, the emotion, the mystery, the drama, the sense of adventure” are all adjectives. Only photographers occasionally use technical language in these descriptions, but you don’t often get “I love the fact you used ISO 64 to make this photograph!”
When people view our work what type of words are they going to use to describe how they feel?
We should put those feelings into our work.
If people are going to use adjectives to describe the impact of your work on them, it stands to reason that we should put those adjectives into our work at the front end during capture and/or processing. When I am working images I make a decision on what I want to say. I use adjectives like the ones listed above to make creative decisions on how the final image will look and feel. Is this based on reality of the event? Sometimes, or partly, or not at all. It purely depends on the facade of the day. The physical geography of the landscape remains unchanged, it is a graphical template on which to dodge and burn my expressive artistic intention.
When I am working images I make a decision on what I want to say. I use adjectives like the ones listed above to make creative decisions on how the final image will look and feel.
Who am I?
Am I a suit and a clean pair of shoes, punctual and articulate? – yes, if I’m going into a negotiation.
Am I sleeping in the rain under a bridge in Glencoe? – yes when I was discovering Scotland’s landscape as a teenager.
Is our artistic intention to make people feel happy, sad, lonely, inquisitive, motivated, inspired, challenged? – yes, sometimes. We are a sum of many parts, changing with the seasons and each passing breath. We have the right to change our minds and be influenced by others. We have the right to say one thing and do another! The facade may or may not represent who we really are.
We have the right to change our minds and be influenced by others. We have the right to say one thing and do another!
About Alister Benn
Alister Benn is an award winning Scottish landscape photographer, author, educator, and guide. He lives on the isle of Skye off the north west coast of Scotland with his wife Juanli Sun. Each year they lead small group workshops and tours to select locations around the Scottish Highlands, Southern Iceland, Northern Spain and of course Tibet and the Himalaya.