I wish I were talking about the great polarizing filters I routinely have on my lens. But no. We live in highly polarizing times. Just look at almost any political talk, at least here in the United States that I am familiar with. Or any “discussion” of social values, climate control, animal rights, etc. There seems to be a bimodal distribution on all things. That is just a fancy way of saying everyone is to one extreme or the other with few in the middle – we are polarized.
I actually want to encourage it. Let me explain.
One of my goals is to create a reaction in you with my images. It doesn’t have to be a strong reaction. I don’t shoot for social causes, so you won’t see starving refugees or sex trafficking or such subjects. Congratulations to those who are drawn to exploring such things, but that is not me.
Nor do images need to be graphic and depressing to evoke emotion. One of the side effects of the extreme polarization in most things is that promoters of a cause are extremely “serious” about what they are doing. To the point where, if you don’t agree and support them, you are a worthless human being.
I promise never to deal with you that way. My images look at the world around me, wherever I am. I try to find joy and wonder in even the smallest things. If I can transfer some of that wonder to you, I am successful. We all need more wonder and joy in our lives.
So one metric I look for is that an image needs to be more than just about something. It needs to make you feel something.
I will express my personal opinion that most photography is boring. Including some of mine. Beautiful sunsets get old quick. Technically perfect images aren’t much use unless the subject or composition is also very strong. And selfies – I won’t even go there.
I believe an image should move you in some way. Even if it is just to make you stare at it in disbelief or puzzlement. Ideally it should connect with you in some way. Some way that makes you pause and consider it for a while.
It takes a lot of effort to make an image that is not boring. That is one reason it is fun and creative.
Another trap is making conventional images. That is, subjects and compositions that we expect, that are similar to what most other people do. This is playing it safe. This is a danger of thinking in terms of social media “likes”.
Learn the rules, then decide when to break them. You are an artist. There are really no rules. If we apply our creativity we can probably do better than the average and conventional. Try to look at things differently. Maybe a different position or unconventional lens choice. Spend time thinking about what you want to say.
Being different can easily be abused. I do not care for images that are different in some weird way just for the sake of being different. What makes you think that landscape actually looks better out of focus? Have something to say.
For me, it comes down to trying to keep a sense of wonder and finding out how to convey that to my viewers. It’s easier said than done. Most of us lose our wonder as we mature. That is unfortunate. We are just getting to a place where we can understand enough of the world to actually wonder at it.
I understand. I lose my wonder at times and have to re-discover it. Especially now that I am old cynicism seems to wash the color out of everything. I fight it. Sometimes I win. It feels good to really get interested in something.
Power of art
I’m a hopeless optimist. I believe art is one of the things that can bring people together. It rises above our polarizing differences. There is not conservative or liberal art. No Blue or Red art. Even if we disagree on many things, we can share enjoyment of an image that speaks to us. We can even share dislike of an image.
Maybe agreeing on something we both don’t like can start bringing us together.
Love it or hate it
That brings me back around to my theme for this article. I want my viewers to feel something when they look at my art. Ideally I would like them to love it. But is they don’t, I would prefer them to hate it than to be indifferent.
This is my art. I labored over it to present it to you. Being indifferent is the most terrible outcome I can imagine.
Unlike our divided political climate, I would prefer a polarizing, bimodal response to my art. If you don’t feel anything one way or another I have probably failed. Even if you hate it, perhaps you will at least consider it for a few minutes and decide maybe there is something there to take away.