Photography is filled with verboten subjects. You know the ones I’m talking about-the puppies, the kittens, the sunsets, flowers, even church steeples in Vermont-all been done to death. These are the “everybody’s already shot them so why should I too?” subjects that seem to haunt our every move.
The verboten, the trite, the boring, the cliche, the whatever-you-call-it subjects are not the end of the world.
There, I said it. There’s nothing wrong with shooting these things. In fact, there’s a reason people tend to shoot these things-they look good in photographs. I mean, who doesn’t want to shoot something that they know is going to look good? Why shouldn’t you go out and take the same damn flower macro shot that everybody else has?
The verboten serves a place.
For me, these subjects serve a sort of “important place” in our photographic development. We have to shoot them. We need to shoot them, we want to shoot them. We can sometimes sort of “get them out of our collective systems” so that we are then free to move on to bigger and better things. Sure, maybe they are a bit boring to look at (I mean, for the love of God, money, and great American muscle cars built before 1973, how many HDR sunset photos are going to end up in the bowels of Flickr’s explore before the magic donkey pops some kind of a cork?) Laugh all you want, these sort of photos serve a purpose in our artistic development.
For me, it was always windows and doors.
Ah, yes, the windows and doors cliche. In my own defense, I should point out (as I’m sure everybody who shoots cliched work does) that, well, back when I was shooting them, it was cool. No really, it was. I mean, I started shooting in a different era, if you will. Nobody was doing color work, it was unheard of-I “grew up” if you will in the era of fine art = black and white. You had to have your own darkroom. “Real” photographers didn’t use color at all, and they shot images with people in them. Portraits, especially black and white portraits were king. Along came Barbara’s group, with our colorful windows and doors and, boy, were we not always well received. I can’t tell you how many times I had to hear somebody say, “it’s not art.” Yeah, right whatever. Time has proven us right, those same naysayers are now shooting color digital. (Still want to tell me it’s not art, Bucky?) Anyway, my personal cliche, my verboten, my “oh, not THAT again” type of work has always been (and probably always will be) the “windows and doors” shot. It’s not the end of the world, I mean, heck, I could be chasing kittens around the yard, right? At least, even among the verboten, I’ve got a tad bit of “street cred” if you will. (Or, you know, maybe not.)
At the very least, it’s something to fall back on.
One inherently good thing about the verboten subject is that it provides you with a sort of “safety net” if you will. As a photographer, you’ve always got something to fall back on. Say what you want about me, you can tell me I’m “too quirky,” “hard to market,” “too much like the second coming of Julie Blackmon” (actually, I take that one as a compliment) or my stuff “just doesn’t fit in.” Fine, whatever, I can take that. Just don’t freaking tell me I can’t shoot a window and door, because, I’d smack your face and tell you that I can do that in my sleep. And, it would be true-I can. (That and fifty cents, right?)
Move along, nothing to see here.
So, now that I’ve defended the verboten, now that I’ve made you stand up tall and be proud of those sunset photos you don’t want to show anybody, I’m going to turn it all around on you. Put them away.
If you want to move along as a photographer, if you want to progress, if you want to really find yourself (I say that as if you were ever really lost, but you get the idea) you need to move past the verboten. Use them as a safety net, yes, shoot them when you’ve got nothing else to shoot, maybe, but stop, put them down, and really think about it. How much would your work improve if you challenged yourself to never shoot another puppy, kitten, sunset, flower, or church top? If you, instead, forced yourself to move beyond the obvious and into the unknown? If you tried and really “pushed yourself” how far could you go?
Go, challenge yourself to find a subject that’s really close to your heart-that means something to you. Make it special, make it count, make it personal. You know you can do it, so what are you waiting for? The puppies, kittens, sunsets, flowers, and church tops will always be there-now go find yourself out in that mess-that’s where the real fun begins. If you don’t grow as a photographer, if you don’t get past the obvious subjects, you’ll never cover new ground, you’ll never be a true “artist” just a technician, you’ll never really see if you’ve got the right stuff. You want to prove to the world that you’ve got the “right stuff” (whatever that is) right? Don’t you? So, go and do it. Seize that bull by the horns, put away those sunsets, flowers, puppies, kittens, etc. and go make something unique, something different, something you.
Heck, even if you fail, you’ve always got the drawer full of sunsets to fall back on, right?
Until next time…