My Satisfaction = Photographing Folks Where I Find Them

A photographer friend recently sent me a video link to a talk by a photographer named Adrian discussing photography and his expectation to fail, concluding disappointment was just a part of the process. In the notes of the video titled, The Curse of the Photographer, he wrote, “Photographers might be destined to permanently feel dissatisfied. Because if we were to feel satisfied, would we still go out and create?”

To which I thought, “Wait, what?” Why would we choose to do anything where we permanently felt dissatisfied? That isn’t a motivation for me to create. Not at all. My interest is in making a photograph that didn’t exist and wouldn’t have existed had I not gone out and approached some people, met them, set the camera exposure and made their photograph.

Like this person who was literally “hanging” out by the lake. The photo was right in front of me, I just had to go up to her and ask. Ok, there was a bit more to it–I also had to leave my house, bring a loaded camera, take a walk and find her. It always takes showing up. I’m never going to feel dissatisfied that I made this photograph. I’m never going to use some dissatisfaction to motivate me to go next time.

I’m going to go because I love to meet people. And because I know nothing happens when I don’t leave my house, when I don’t go out into the streets to go to work.

That’s the only dissatisfaction I experience—if I don’t get to go out photographing for some reason or another.

It was a treat to find this family working on getting their boat ready for the lake. I asked them if I could photograph them and enjoyed documenting them. Unlike most couples, the woman was working the hand pump. The boy looks like a boy out of Central Casting. Actually, they all do–an all-American family.

Sometimes I meet people and can’t help creating an impromptu family photo shoot. Like this one. I love the pensive expression on the child’s face.

That’s a photograph that I’ll print for them that will never be confused with a digital phone snap, one that will hopefully be cherished by the child as she grows up and perhaps has children that age.

This is all from one roll of Ilford HP5 film which is all I took inside a Rolleicord V 120 camera. No dissatisfaction. I made more than one exposure of each certainly–I know the importance of getting a few choices for editing through later. But why would I ever be dissatisfied, disappointed, feel cursed?

I wouldn’t and I don’t. That certainly wouldn’t be my motivation for going back out.

I think for the most part Adrian, in this and another video I watched of his, struggles to figure out why he’s making photographs. That could be a real struggle. But not for me. I’m making a collection of portraits of people I find in public. Some posed, some not.

Seems to me that the question is, “Why are we making these photographs?” Which is a good question to ask ourselves. I know mine–I’m documenting people in the world around me for gallery projects and portrait exhibits. And to gift to families–the people I photograph.

But why are you making photos?

Perhaps that’s where the dissatisfaction comes from–making work and not knowing where to put it, what to do with it, and also wondering the next time you go out what the point is of making more.

I suggest all photographers work on the answer to that question. There are many photographers who would have no interest in documenting the people I photograph. They prefer landscapes or wildlife. But even those, what for? Are you going to print and hang them as art? Gift or sell them? What’s the end game of the product of your effort?

While Instagram has a large number of users, making photographs just to post on there for a like and a swipe, well, I can see how that would be tremendously unsatisfying.

If I were only making work for Instagram, I would be incredibly dissatisfied. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and all social media. I am a photographer making photographs. Not just feeding eyeballs to fill Meta’s coffers. Nope.

A real photographer with real photographs.

A dad and his kid with a handful of pine cones spending time together at the lake, that’s all I need.

What do you need? Answer that, then I say, “Go get it.” You won’t be dissatisfied at all.

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