New Orleans – Finding My Photographic Voice
This month is a focus on my New Orleans images. This post will consider how the city and the images I took there have helped to clarify my photographic voice and led to a reassessment of my own surroundings.
What do you photograph? Have you ever tried to quantify it? Is there a recurring theme, colour, or subject matter? What do you wander past and immediately regret not having your camera with you to capture?
Until recently I might have found it hard to voice these things in relation to my own work. Things caught my eye, exciting my line of sight. I could see an image, but was unsure of what exactly I was trying to capture and create through my camera lens.
As with any other art form, much of this inability to translate what you perceive in reality as a great image into the the camera lens can be rectified with practice. Not to mention some added technical know-how. However, in order to feel the impetus to practice we occasionally need an instigating factor. Or, to lean upon a cliche – some artistic inspiration.
As many self-deprecating artists, I am sometimes (often) afflicted by the stagnation of procrastination. A fear to start any project because there is an internal belief that it will not turn out as planned. As a result we find distractions, mindless tasks to keep us busy, in the vain belief that our ideas are much safer locked away inside our heads, away from any tangible scrutiny. They stay secure in a cognitive creative limbo.
Sometimes, then, it is not that we don’t want to create, just that we need some pertinent reason for doing so. For me, this came with a trip to New Orleans almost two years ago. I had gone initially to conduct research for my PhD and as such was situated in the heart of the French Quarter. I had my camera, but it was taken with the intent of documentation, not any kind of artistic pursuit.
Yet, as I walked up and down the tightly packed streets of the district perched upon the side of the Mississippi, I found my gaze wandering. Lingering on the various hues and tones of the buildings and visible wear of the older architectural features. Undoubtedly the exquisite sunlight that slipped through unexpected corners and illuminated secret crevices and alleyways was a significant factor. But probably what instigated my sudden need to walk methodically up and down each street was more likely the emphasis on time – or, the lack of it.
I was only in New Orleans for a week. I also had a busy schedule, with lots of places on my research list. There was also a very real prospect that this might be my only ever visit to this city (as it turned out I would be back 9 months later, but I did not know this at the time). With all of this in mind, there was a sense of urgency. I needed to capture all of the images I could now, otherwise they would be lost and I would leave the Big Easy with a feeling of unfulfilled artistic potentials.
It is something that you may have noticed yourself. How often do you go away, to a new place, and find that you are documenting the landscape, urban or rural, through your camera lens? You come home with a plethora of images of architecture and vistas only then to find yourself uninspired by your own back yard. The new is inspiring, the familiar not so much.
Yet a close examination of your work can be a useful way of counteracting this cycle. For me, I knew I wanted to take more photographs. I had a decent camera that wasn’t fulfilling its potential and I enjoy capturing the things that interest me, however, found a lack of inspiration on my doorstep. As I was wandering the streets of the French Quarter, camera in hand, I started to see a pattern to the imagery that was catching my eye. Themes and visual cues recurrently emerged.
As I began to analyse just what these little sparks of inspiration were, it became clear that none were exclusive to New Orleans themselves. For example, I found myself drawn to interesting doorways, the shapes of shadows on the wall, and the interplay of colour in the urban landscape. All things that were readily available in my home environment, but familiarity had made me blind. Numbed my senses to the vast amounts of visual stimulus all around.
It took, then, the impetus of a deadline within an area to force my artistic hand. What resulted, however, was a set of images that do not just work as artistic documents of my time in New Orleans, but also served to attune my senses to the imagery that I wanted to capture. They allowed me to find parallels between that which so enchanted my gaze while away with what I see everyday.
As I have heard so many artists tell me before, being in your comfort zone does not create great art. It does not move you on either intellectually or artistically. Comfort is the death knoll of any creative ambition (see this interview). This particular journey was not intended to inspire long-term creativity, but that it did in such a profound way only reiterates this sentiment in my own mind.
In the next posts in this series, I will be examining the editing process and how discussing work with others can help to reevaluate your ideas, and the types of imagery that caught my attention and how that has translated into new work since my trip to New Orleans.