September 6, 2021•492 words
This is a question I ask myself often. Like, way too often. To the point where I think it gets in the way.
My kinds of photos
I like taking aesthetic photos. Aesthetic photos, to me, contain just the right balance to provoke my brain into focusing on them. They aren't, for me, very emotional. Aesthetics in my photos, or the ones I admire, tends to boil down to being drawn to the photo and usually not being sure why.
Sometimes aesthetic photos bore me with superficiality, possibly because they are viewed on a phone. It's hard to appreciate a photo on my tiny screen, and the same photo might stun me aesthetically in print.
I also like taking photos of people. People are chaos incarnate, moving and reacting to their own internal worlds. Each of us is a multitude in our own right. When I photograph people, I look to capture some of that multitude, in whatever form.
I think the portrait is one of the most challenging art forms. We expect people to look a certain way, so either the portrait artist must meet that expectation, or subvert it entirely. A good portrait provokes both an aesthetic and emotional reaction in me, and I strive to achieve that in my photos.
Portraits, of all these kinds of images, are the ones most likely to succeed on a phone screen. Our brains search for the human form. We see and respond to it quickly, even when rendered in miniature. Maybe that's why I like them so much—they feel timeless and universal.
I like taking photos of the landscape, whether natural or built. In part, my landscapes are a portrait of the people who spend time there. Those same landscapes are also a veneration of a world that lives on in spite of humanity's best efforts. In many ways I feel the relationship of humans to Earth (meaning every other living thing) is a parasitic one with the potential to be symbiotic. I want to capture complexity in my landscapes.
I don't enjoy mere disaster or urban decay porn. Photos of a burned out car or derelict house provoke a sadness in me that is profound, but not pleasant. Those photos have immense value to me but are journalistic in nature and not something I look at to enjoy (and again fall flat on a phone screen). They inspire altogether different action.
I ask myself what I want to photograph so often because I feel that I need to pick just one subject or style and stick with it, in order to be truly good. On the other hand, my brain requires and thrives on novelty. Often, the lessons I learn from one kind of photography lead me to a new discovery with another kind.
For me, the key is intentionality rather than focus by limitation. Intentional practice and discovery lead to the greatest progress in my own work.