I find that a distance of time often builds a healthy perspective on my images. Sometimes, when the images are “fresh”, the experience of the capture clouds my judgment. Letting them age can build a clearer judgment of them. They can take on a new life.
I have written that we need to fall in love with our images and capture the emotions we were feeling at the time. That is true, but the experience of the moment is not sufficient to make it worthwhile. I could point to many images in my catalog that bring back great memories. Ones where I felt alive and on fire when I took them.
They will always be meaningful to me, but that does not make them great images. I have to learn to let go of my emotional attachment to them and look at them with detachment. That is the only way to begin to see if they could bring satisfaction to other people.
I have said that we need to balance our emotional side with our analytical side. This is one of those times. Looking at one of my images may bring back a flood of joy or suffering or pain or other feelings. But I must coldly and analytically figure out if I have brought any of that to my viewers.
Just because it was significant to me does not mean it should be to you. This may be the last picture I took of my father before he died, but that doesn’t make it meaningful to you unless it brings out something significant about the human condition.
I may have a group of shots I took in 2 feet of snow in white-out conditions where hardly anyone was dumb enough to be out. The images may be beautiful to me and bring back the experience as a pleasant memory, but what can they convey to you?
If I can’t bridge from personally important to an exciting image from your perspective, it is only a selfie.
One way to be able to see this is to use time as a distance mechanism. I have found myself instinctively doing this a lot, but it was interesting to see it discussed by Alister Benn, CaptureLandscape’s 2020 Photographer of the Year:
He goes on to describe how this separation helped him by allowing him to view images more objectively. They are distanced from their original meaning. How he perceives and reacts to the image right now is all that matters. Sometimes he looks through old images and “discovers” ones he was cool to at the time that he can now develop into a great image. Seen on its own without the baggage of the emotions of the shoot, it means something new. Distance builds perspective.
See them for what they are
Alister asks how, then, does he decide what images to work on? “Simply, I work the ones that speak to me.” Sitting in front of the computer days, or even months after the shoot, they look different. They have different meaning. A meaning may arise independent of the original context.
He is in a different place – literally and figuratively. He has different feelings and emotions. The images are perceived different. Some become more important. Presumably some become less important. But he is processing them from the point of view of where his head is at the time.
At the time
Interestingly, this means that there could be a kind of ebb and flow to our perceptions. At any given time our feelings will be different. We may be happy, sad, melancholy, reflective, hopeful. How we feel at the time determines how we perceive our images and how we process them.
In a recent article, I suggested an exercise to discover our natural themes: pick your “best” 100 images from your portfolio. Brainstorm descriptive terms. Group those into categories and name them. I also gave the opinion that this was not deterministic, because repeating the exercise at another time could be a little different, because you would pick different images as your “best”.
I think I was discovering the idea that even our portfolio is not a fixed set. There is not necessarily 20 or 50 or 100 images that is fixed in time that represent me. The members can change, not only as we do new work, but as we change our perspective. Time brings new points of view. Distancing our self from the emotions of when we captured the image changes how we view it. We are always growing and learning.
It’s actually exciting for me to look back through old images in my catalog. The excitement is when I have one jump out at me and I look at the way I processed it and say “what were you thinking?” Then I re-process it from a different point of view and create a new, different image.
The image here is an example of this idea. Every time I come back to it, I see something different. Sometimes I love it, sometimes not as much. It is in or out of my portfolio on any given day. The longer I live with it, the more I like it. I am tending to see more layers and ideas swirling through it. Right now I would say it is a definite “in”. It speaks to me.