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Picture Story: On the importance of subject

9 years, 6 months ago classwork, photography, writing 0

I know I love the Bird By Bird book, so for this set of readings, I decided to go with Bill Jay and David Hurn’s chapter called Selecting a Subject first. I thought maybe I wouldn’t like it as much if I put it second like last week’s selections. Instead, in the second paragraph, I found my inspiration for the day.

“You are not a photographer because you are interested in photography. […] These interests, no matter how personally enjoyable they might be, never lead to the person becoming a photographer. The reason is that photography is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else.” (p. 29-30)

When telling one of my staff photographers about this idea, something made us stand up in the photo bubble and shout “Yes!” as though we’ve finally found someone to vindicate us in our belief that there really is something that separates us from the rest of the world with a camera.

Hurn and Jay’s advice on finding a subject also made me laugh, as I just went through that process in finding one-day story ideas to pitch. I drew up a list and then went through the next day and picked out the most interesting visually and interesting subject to me options. The two stronger ideas were of things that I’m passionate about, or have a true curiosity about.

I also loved how they describe finding a style in your photography. “A unique style, which is what we are talking about, is the by-product of visual exploration, not it’s goal. […] Ironically, by starting with self, it is missed; ignore it, and it becomes evident.” (p. 34-35) I don’t know where they came up with this stuff, but I could eat it up all day.

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In this installment of Bird by Bird, I finally saw what I was thinking since the beginning – this writer knows, and likely had met, Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones. When I was a writer in college, someone recommended that book. It’s excellent in getting past your ‘writer’s block’ or ‘creative block’ or whatever ails you in writing. I see many connections between the two books. Perhaps that’s why I love this one so much.

In any case, the two chapters up for reading continue where we left off at content generating. Sometimes the story just isn’t clear yet, but we know we have a location and an event to get us started. Sometimes the main character doesn’t become apparent until we have collected almost all of our content and are nearing the end of the day. Just like the polaroid, she wrote. It all slowly comes into focus as time passes and the story – the picture – develops.

I feel like I’m going to encounter this with my one day story, which I hope will pan out into a final project as well. I have a willing subject, and an idea of what I may or want to see, but it’s just a partially developed polaroid right now. It needs some shaking and time to fully develop into a story.

These readings, as usual, make me want to get up and make pictures, to get started on shaking my polaroid.

(cue Outkast.)