I have a challenge…
But before I set it forth, I must explain from where it comes.
I love complexity. I love patterns in my fabrics that are no mere dreaming of pretty flowers or items, but a thoughtful contemplation of how shapes, colors, and textures can come together in unpredictable ways. This intrigue for me of the unexpected stems into my preferences in other aspects of my life, such as postmodern architecture that plays with our expectations and conventions of balance, materials, and atmosphere; or within the art of garden design where one may draw upon the unparalleled access we have today for plants and cultural influences from all over the world; or in the world of historical scholarship where one is repeatedly surprised at what they may discover; or even in the culinary arts where one may explore, may it be through intuition, combinations of flavors, textures, color that one is not used to.
This searching for complexity is, for me, much like going on a journey. With each new discovery you are encouraged as a creative spirit to draw upon a new knowledge base to now move forward and break more expectations. This creative spirit is what each new generation must harness, always living on the edge, on the ecstasy of hope and excitement mingled together for what is to come if we keep endeavoring.
But this should also be something we seek in photography. With the prevalence of high-quality digital cameras we are all given the opportunity to be amateur photographers. And through this creative process to look more closely at how photography is both a product of and an influence upon our individuality, our identity, and the culture we share or build with others.
For this reason, I suggest as both photographers and viewers we take more careful note of the importance of framing in this art. It is not solely what is captured within the photograph, or what appears to be its subject that is important in our observations. But also, and in some cases what may be more important, how a photographer chooses to frame what they wished to capture. Instead of cooing over the beauty in a photograph, should we instead back-up as viewers and ask ourselves why did this photographer frame their subject, if there is one, in this way? What did they wish to communicate by framing it this way? For we must remember that we are surrounded by a dizzying degree of detail in the multitude of environments that we move through each day. Amidst all that detail, why would a photographer choose this or these details to focus upon?
I sometimes fear that in the effort to prove ourselves as promising photographers we focus too much on finding and perfectly photographing the culturally-accepted or expected beautiful subject. This emphasis on what we think others wish to see deprives us of the opportunity to utilize photography to its greatest creative capacities. Some of the photographers I most admire are those who have built a career out of photographing landscapes or subject matters that are complex, unattractive, and shocking: those subject matters that rattle your conscience and make you look around your world with some confusion and a few moments to even a few days of bewilderment at the world you thought you knew and were comfortable in. We need not horrify our audiences, but we should no longer point our lenses away from those subject matters that somewhat repel us for it is much the same as turning a blind eye to the most unjust aspects of our society. We need to be more careful observers of our environments, and in doing so communicating our observations in one of the most powerful ways that we can: through photography. But in turn, we must make the respectful pact to also be thoughtful observers of other’s photographs, and not be afraid to ask questions.
This challenge of mine to fellow amateur photographers (and to myself as well!) need not be only in reference to photographing injustices or ugly subject matters. Rather, I would love for all of us to feel more comfortable challenging framing conventions to reveal strange complexities in the world around us. There are so many pictures we never share that may hold or inspire additional interesting insights. We must always remember that one of photography’s great powers is to perplex and challenge its viewers. We do not walk around in a world where every view we take in is designed to be a lovely and momentary picture. Why, then, should such a great deal of our photography be this way? Rather, if you see something interesting, confusing, or overwhelming photograph it as well, for you and perhaps your audience may be surprised in the years to come at what you had captured in that moment of creativity and contemplation: a world of great complexity where its strength and intrigue can be found in its diversity.