A friend across the pond asked me who my favorite photographers were, and I was embarrassed because I didn’t have an answer. It meant, in turn, that I had no artists in the field, past or present, that truly inspired me. I was just learning the technical aspects of the craft and not the aspects that make images art. It was embarrassing because, artistically speaking, I am still a nobody. And I had no visual examples, no craftsmen in mind, that inspired me to change this.
But even though I didn’t have a photographer in mind, I did have an image in mind. I saw this image, shot by Italian photographer Paolo Roversi, a long time ago on Tumblr (a fine place where no one credits anybody). WIth only that image to go on, I tracked the source of the image and I dove into the rest of Roversi’s work. The way his images look and the mood that they give both make me wish I started on film. Makes me wish I had the courage to even work with film. They’re mostly dark, unsharpened images, mostly desaturated. It’s a vintage feel that I didn’t know I liked, not until I saw the image.
One thing that has bothered me is that there is a clear difference between a “photographer” and a “kid with a camera,” and I’ve spent an uncomfortable about of time being the latter. I’m learning how to better myself: how to better compose shot, how to better frame subjects, how to match a lens to a situation and how to better edit the results of my exploits, but I’m not reaching towards becoming a better artist. I thought that after my time at the Art Institute, the “art” of photography would come to me naturally, but so far, no such luck. I could take all I’ve learned, have hours to get it right just to deliver an image that is ultimately without a soul, without artistry. But I’m reminded of what I was told before I even started college: They can teach you the trade they can give you the tools, but no one can teach you how to be an artist. We’re going into 2018 without a clear idea of what it means to be an artist. I use this idea to build myself and keep myself from falling into doubts: I’d hate that I’ve wasted time, writing all my life, drawing all my life, and teaching myself photography for three-four years just to learn that I do not have an artistic bone in my body.
But I am in the unique position to further myself in my own interests. For right now, things in my life remain balanced on an uncomfortably narrow tightrope but, nonetheless, balanced. I have my whole life ahead of me and far too much time on my hands. And, most importantly, I’m convinced that the journey to discover who I am as an artist is not a race. Maybe if I can leap the hurdle called “fear,” I can figure it out.
Luckily, in terms of photography, I know where to start. It costs nothing to reach out into the world (before the loss of net neutrality supposedly neuters my ability to do so), collect images and explore what it means for imagery to speak to truly speak, and what imagery speaks personally to me. There’s more to this art form than just Paolo Roversi or Annie Leibovitz. Growing artists owe it to themselves take the time to visit the works of people that came before them. The one thing that school did teach me about being an artist is that inspiration from those who blazed the trail you now walk is as healthy as it is important. There is nothing wrong with visiting the past to inspire your future. In the end, artistry is like a fingerprint–there is not one that is like another.
Funny: I’ve solved my own burning questions in the middle of writing this blog post. What I do with my answers falls to me and my willingness to branch out beyond just pressing a button to close the shutter. It’s not enough for me anymore. I desire the image to speak now. It’s exciting.
Image by Paolo Roversi