What is missing from photography

Aug 8, 2018

A.B Watson

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What is missing from photography

Aug 8, 2018

A.B Watson

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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It has been bugging me for a while now, there is just something that is missing from photography. From my personal work to the majority of photographers out there. I’m talking about the photos on your feeds, be it personal to commercial. It has been bugging me and I finally found out what it is, what is missing from photography, is stories.

A disclaimer, I’m not talking about photojournalism, or anything relating to the Pulitzer Prize. Those are photos with real stories that are important and need to be shared and told to the world. The photography I’m talking about is the personal, the creative, the artistic, the majority, the mainstream.

When you see a photograph that is of a chair in a room or a model in a pose I think to myself that’s atheistically beautiful but aside from that, I don’t give a shit. There is no personal aspect to the image, no story about why that chair is there or why the model is posing or sitting or whatever except to maybe sell it. A landscape is a landscape, I can see why people find them boring to look at. But if it was a landscape of a forest that was cut down a year ago to make way for Palm oil farming, then it becomes an important story.

What I’m getting at is we are overwhelmed with imagery, saturated so much that we only connect and pay attention to the things that resonate with us. If you purchase a new car, phone or camera I bet that all of a sudden you would notice that everyone around you has that object. It’s not that suddenly everyone got one, it’s that you started to notice them because you invested in that brand and it had become important to you. A few weeks ago you didn’t see them, but now that this item resonates with you, you take notice. The same goes for mainstream photographs, I see a lot of imagery but none of it resonates with me on a personal level. The majority of it is just aesthetically pleasing, nice, pretty, beautiful, and because of that, the majority of imagery out there isn’t memorable. Where are all the stories that connect with our humanity?

My work is mostly void of people, I mainly take landscape and still life photographs. The meaning behind my work is about disconnecting from technology, switching off the phone and being in the moment, it’s about mindfulness, being Zen. Now, looking at my work you wouldn’t get that information or context by merely looking at it, it’s just aesthetically pleasing. I’m not perfect, my work is completely void of a message or story. My work is a good example of what not to do, I have much room for improvement and I desperately need to take my own medicine. So how does one include a story to an image?

To tell a story you could include a blurb, you could tell a story with a photo series or essay that has a narrative or story structure. Your image could have an article, music, sound or dialogue with it. I love reading blurbs in photo galleries giving me context behind the work or what the artist is striving for with their imagery. I love it when someone adds a story or description below their Instagram post. It gives the photo more power and humanity.

Think Humans of New York, if all you saw were the portraits, you would think that’s a nice photo and move on. But there is a whole lot of text below it, that is related to the person in the portrait. Those stories are deeply personal and that is why so many people resonate with Brandon Stanton’s work. Because the photographs have a personal story attached to the imagery, they make us sympathise and relate to the subject.

If only more photographs had a story behind it. I’m not saying that taking photographs for the act of taking photographs is bad. I’m not saying that a nice landscape is meaningless or an editorial spread is worthless. I’m not saying that at all, I’d just love to get a little more context to why the image was taken. If the images you capture are because they are aesthetically beautiful then you have succeeded in sharing that meaning and value. If your images are just for you then great take everything I said with a massive grain of salt. Personally, I’d love to know the story, meaning and history or feeling behind your photograph. Express what you see or feel through your lens, make me feel through your imagery and message, share a story… your story.

About the Author

Alexander Ben Korako Watson, best known as A.B Watson is a photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. You can find out more about him on his website, follow his work on Instagram and Facebook or reach out to him through Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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3 responses to “What is missing from photography”

  1. Jimmy Harris Avatar
    Jimmy Harris

    Most photographers make the mistake of finding something beautiful and then try to find a way to tell it’s story. Very rarely does a photographer find the story first, and then try to find a way to capture it’s beauty. As Louis Sullivan said, “form ever follows function”. That is why so much of modern photography looks and feel the same, because the images were meaningless before the shutter was even clicked. Before it can stand out, it has to stand up.

    So don’t worry about adding the story to the photograph. Add the photograph to the story. Find something important to say first, and then say it with the photograph.

  2. Tony Sullivan Avatar
    Tony Sullivan

    Hi, I like what you said. For me I read something that changed my photography forever, and, made it much more difficult. Professional Photographer Robert Rodreguz posted an old Indian proverb that stated in essence, many things attract the eye, pursue only those things that capture the heart. I applied that bit of wisdom to my photography and things begin to change.

  3. Joshua Boldt Avatar
    Joshua Boldt

    I like this. Thanks.