A couple of weeks ago I had the insane opportunity to go to Paris Photo (one of the most important photo festivals in the world) with the SACI photo MFAs. Predictably, I kind of lost my mind over it. The amount incredible work under one roof was overwhelming in the best possible sense.
On a personal level, I managed to surprise myself in the way that I experienced the whole event. It turned out, out of a sea of images, that the photos I was attracted to were starkly different than the ones that would have caught my eye before coming here. A lot of minimal black and white images caught my eye, whereas I’ve generally been drawn to louder color photos because I identified my own pictures with that aesthetic. My entire brand as a portrait photographer is based on brightness, and because of that, I think I got locked into it at a very young stage in my development as a photographer. My reasoning was that since I established a client base that expects a certain look, I should stay consistent to my brand even if I felt that I was personally growing out of it (or at least ready to play with something else). Sure, I could have experimented in my personal photos, but the line between work and my personal photos became blurred.
It’s only been within the past year that I’m figuring out what about photography draws me in at this stage of my life, and I’m paying far more attention to subject matter rather than aesthetics and technicalities. Color is easy to use as a distraction; bright, poppy images don’t necessary have to be good to make someone notice. Now, though, my goal is to focus more on the content rather than Photoshop tricks, and I’m more interested in saying something than I am in simply catching attention. It’s a lot harder, and one of the most challenging things about this first semester is figuring out how to tell a story with a series of images.
So, in short: thank you, grad school, for forcing me so far out of my comfort zone in so (so, SO) many ways. I’m second guessing everything that I do and I’m also more than overwhelmed with the things I need to finish before the end of term (and I also spent 8 hours in the darkroom yesterday), but I think that’s normal. It at least means that I care about what I do and it definitely means that I’m learning. Plus, it’s the good kind of stress. About two years ago was when I started to feel like I’d made a lot of wrong decisions in my life (locking myself into a career I didn’t want, choosing my college based off of proximity to said career rather than going somewhere new and challenging, just generally not pushing myself to where I thought I could be). However, had I not made those decisions, I wouldn’t have ended up at my dream school. Life has a funny way of working itself out.