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Which ‘Self’ do you Take Pictures for?

More thoughts from Tim Parkin on why we make photographs

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

Flickr, Facebook, Twitter

When asked ‘who do you make photographs for’, a very common answer is ‘myself’. However, given recent discussion, I started to think about what this means.

When I started my photography, I didn’t know who I was doing it for. I did know that I wanted to show people what I was doing though; I wanted to share the buzz that I got from seeing these scenes with other people my wife and family seemed to bear the brunt of this (and a couple of work colleagues who were quite understanding).

However as I developed as a photographer, I think my photographic tastes started to develop and some of the work that I was really proud of didn’t have the same impact with family and friends as my initial works. I felt like I was a wine taster developing a palette and that I was tasting things I could only share with other people who had developed that taste.

Fortunately, by this time I had been on a couple of photography trips and had met some other people who shared these tastes and I got some good feedback from them - getting that buzz back again from sharing pictures. However, meeting up with these people once every few months wasn’t my photographic goal.

Tastes continue to develop, as they do, and perhaps there are only a small group of friends who fully understand what I am trying to do (although a wider group may like the work) and so I end up creating my work for an imaginary audience.

I talked about Vivian Maeir in a previous article and the fact that she didn’t show her work to anyone. I think she must have had her own imaginary peers - she may have dreamed of showing pictures with Atget or Bresson but been rebuffed by a local photographic community (I’m guessing, who knows what goes on through most strangers heads).

I create occasional pictures now where I’m not sure whether anyone will like them but I would still like to think that there is an understanding audience out there.

And I think this is the ‘self’ that a lot of people take photographs for. Ourselves as proxy for the audience we would like to have. We have to play creator and audience at the same time. As our photography progresses, we might decide to ‘upgrade’ our audience - playing a new persona that can reassess our images in a new light.

Of course we can’t just change our core personality overnight and so there will still be a fundamental part of us that reacts instinctively about photography. That part of us is our real self, the part that gets an electric thrill when it recognises beauty and/or excellence in craft. We have to remember that this part of us develops over time though. This instinctive reaction to photography will be different that it was when we first picked up our initial ‘wow’ pictures.

A good balance between our instinctive and ‘imaginary’ audiences can help our photography move in the direction we would like to see it go without becoming untrue to our instincts. We have to remember that our instinctive self will be different in a few years time and so we don’t always have to listen to it, just as we don’t have to slavishly work with our imagined audience.

And the outside influences in our photography? Personally I think we need to be very careful who and how many people we let influence us. Choose to pay attention to a subsection of your real audience (don’t be swayed by the 100 favourites that picture on flickr got - if it doesn’t fit into your personal path then enjoy the attention, feel free to work out why it happened but stay consistent with your ‘selves’). And if your external audience clashes dramatically with your internal audience it’s up to you to decide who is right or wrong.. It may just mean that the path you are moving along isn’t quite mature yet.

We should also remember that our ‘instinctive’ self will be quite different in a decade’s time and you have the opportunity to send messages into the future. Take some pictures that are outside your usual creative envelope and mark them for the attention of ‘future me’. You might be surprised at what ‘future you’ thinks when looking back :-)

I asked Dav Thomas to take a look at this and he said he had a picture that reminded him of this so ..

"I was somewhat amused/confused when I read the latter part of Tim's article referring to taking pictures for your future self – but on reflection this is rather a thought provoking idea. Normally I find myself going back through my photos and reflect on what I was thinking at the time – which ones I still think hold some credibility and which ones are purely clichéd landscape porn. There's one photo of mine that stands out as being a "photo for the future me" – thanks old me (or should that be young me...?). Made on a wet, dull day on Mull in 2007 – at the time my subtle pallet hadn't quite developed to the muted wow-less state it's in now and I suppose I was still at a stage where it mattered to me a bit if I got comments on Flickr. Having popped it on Flickr it received little attention but I now realise this matters not a jot. Sure I might do it a little differently now (and certainly in large format) and it's by no means a great photo, but the elements are there for the "now me" to appreciate - muted colours, a compositional idea with the lead line from the corner and a sense of place without being an obvious view. Whether I'm still making photos now for the future me I'm not sure but I will certainly consider this when I'm out in the field."

Jason Theacker asked me in the comments about which picture gives me an emotional connection. In terms of pictures I feel that I have created something a little beyond myself I think it's this shot of Saltwick Nab that expresses most of what in a photograph. It's also one of the pictures that has grown on me more and more over time. (Sorry for the short comment - this is posted from a hotel room in Scotland - waiting for the rain to stop).



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