What shall I photograph?

Abandoned_dolls_head‘To achieve his best work, the young photographer must discover what really excites him visually. He must discover his own world.’ Bill Brandt (1904-1983)

‘What shall I photograph?’ Young male photographers aren’t the only ones asking that question. Nor should they stop, even when their hair turns grey, as mine has done. Taken at face value, it’s a shallow question that invites a shallow answer –  for example : ‘try pointing your camera at steam trains, wildlife or landscapes’.

Bill Brandt might have been politically incorrect to assume that all serious photographers are young and male, but his advice was basically sound – ask yourself what you find exciting, what strikes a chord in you. And if you’re not sure, keep on searching. Go to exhibitions, look at books, browse the internet. Best of all, experiment with your own photography and uncover what makes you feel joyful and alive.

A few months ago, in a post about Elliott Erwitt, I talked about his general approach to photography. He explained : ‘I’ve found that it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.’ If you’d like to read the entire post, follow the link to ‘Elliott Erwitt : Observer’

Expanding on that approach, Erwitt underlined the importance of emotional content in his images : ‘The work I care about is terribly simple. I observe, I try to entertain, but above all I want pictures that are emotional.’

Erwitt is talking about what matters to him – and judging by the response to his pictures, that approach is very successful. But the world doesn’t need another Elliott Erwitt or a carbon copy of Bill Brandt. What it needs is your original contribution to photography, images that excite you and resonate for you. Work on that and in time you’ll find your own audience.

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