Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lens On Life

Documentary photography holds the power to capture moments of historical significance, to broaden our exposure to people, places and experiences beyond our reach, to shape (or shatter) our perceptions and to offer an authentic view of humanity.
Text & Photography By Stephanie Calabrese Roberts Published in Shooting
Student pianists await their moment in the spotlight at the annual holiday recital at Villa Serena in Conyers, Georgia.
Student pianists await their moment in the spotlight at the annual holiday recital at Villa Serena in Conyers, Georgia.
People watching at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

Put yourself in front of subjects that move you as often as you can. If you like taking pictures of your children, take pictures of your children. If you like taking pictures of strangers walking dogs on the street, take pictures of strangers walking dogs on the street. If you're not sure what you like to shoot, grant yourself five minutes each day for one month to just shoot what moves you. Review your image archive and look for connections or repeating subject matter to identify trends.

3. If you don't see an interesting image, inspire one.

Or don't shoot. You'll undoubtedly encounter situations when you can't find a good picture. It might be a mundane setting, poor lighting conditions or lack of an interesting subject. When this happens, don't feel as though you must shoot. All the creative processing in the world won't save an image that doesn't contain something interesting.

Consider ways you can inspire an interesting image by introducing something new within your environment to trigger a spontaneous reaction. Start blowing bubbles. Hand someone a balloon. Ask your subject to stand on his head to shake things up. Or simply put your camera away, and go someplace else.

4. Turn the focus on yourself.

The style of your professional photographs and your personal photographs may or may not be markedly different from each other. If your styles or subjects do diverge, consider creating two websites, or two galleries within a single website, to differentiate, present and share your professional work apart from your personal work.

If your professional and personal styles are more similar, give yourself the freedom and space to explore a new path in your personal documentary work. You might be holding yourself back for fear of detouring from a signature style in your professional work or perhaps documenting and sharing your own life in a public way makes you feel self-conscious. What you may not realize is that much of photography is about understanding who you are—getting comfortable with your own vulnerability so you can build a capacity to reveal your subjects with empathy and sensitivity.

Try shooting your personal documentary in a way that differs from your current work. If you shoot your professional work with a digital SLR, consider using your iPhone camera for your personal experimentation. If you're short on interesting subjects, turn the focus on yourself. Learning to expose an authentic view of yourself can help you develop an appreciation for your own imperfections, and gain confidence in the value of your presence and unique perspective.

5. Explore your environment to document what's inside you.

When we think about documentary photography, our thoughts might move initially toward photojournalism or newsworthy mom-ents—images that portray a view or a perspective of our external world, what we see. But I suggest that documentary can and should be stretched to meet the needs of the photographer, and needn't be limited to the notion of a visible exterior.

Consider using the limitations of what's present in your environment to document the evolution of what's going on inside of you. Keeping a camera with you at all times gives you an opportunity to quickly make images to express who you are, what you're thinking or how you're feeling in a more conceptual way. Think of this form of documentary photography as visual journaling, using physical elements of your environment as you would use words to express thoughts or feelings.
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