Engaging with the unfamiliar

One of the best things we can do in order to improve our photography is to step out of our safety zones and look at other photographers work. I don’t mean just looking at landscape photographs by Charlie Waite if you like landscapes but look at the work of someone who takes photographs of subjects or in a style that you may have walked past in a gallery.

A few weeks ago I took a walk up to the University of Warwick to have a look at the paintings and collages of John Piper. His work ranges from landscape collages to abstracts. I can’t say that all of the work “spoke” to me, but two or three pieces definitely did and I found that I was actually standing in front of a pair of small abstract canvasses for several minutes. I really enjoyed the exhibition as a whole, and it left me feeling creatively refreshed.

John Piper –  The passage to the control-room at south-west regional headquarters

I never used to “get” abstract photographic art, but I had to look at several photographers of the genre for an essay and at the end I realised that I now understood what they were trying to portray and the style now really excites me. We need to embrace different styles, give them a go and try to expand our creativity. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to look at other photographers work. If we don’t then we are held captive inside our own zones of repetition and boredom.

When we simply like, or don’t like, something, and we move on before considering why we like it, before we engage with it and spend time asking, not whether we like it or not, but what the artist was trying to say, trying to accomplish, we miss a chance to go deeper.

I argue that one of the most important things for the growing photographer is an openness to, even a pursuit of, things outside the comfort zones of our tastes. I would add to that a willingness to listen to the art of others, and to do that meaningfully I think we need to listen to less of it, in order to give it a greater share of our attention. You don’t have to like it to learn from it, but you do have to engage with it, and listen to it.

– David duChemin

Robert Adams –  Colorado Springs, Colorado – 1968

Now just because I really got to like this style of mid-west USA photographs, here’s a picture by Robert Adams. What does the picture say to me? Well, the title says it was taken in the late sixties and the crisp portrayal of the tract house takes the viewer away from its possibly tacky, middle-America style. The woman is highlighted in the window, surrounded by the darker walls of the interior. Is Adams saying she is trapped? Is he making a judgement on her suburban life in the USA in the sixties? That’s for you to decide.


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