To Make Good Art Photograph What You Love…Until You Can’t

Things change.

Photography has changed since I first picked up a camera. I started with a film camera “borrowed” from my parents, moved to one of the first dSLRS, and have upgraded several times since that first 6.3 megapixel camera of 2003. However, moving my photography from a slow process waiting for prints to an instant process with thousands of images has not been the biggest change.

My subject has changed the most.

I was interested in photography before Ian was born, but his arrival changed my focus.  He presented an abundance of photographic opportunities. Interest moved to obsession.

When he was a newborn until just recently, his changes seemed to occur almost daily. Tiny fingers. Tiny toes. First smiles. A tooth where there had been none to no teeth where there had been many. An expression that captured who he was at that very moment to so many firsts. All his little moments created a new sense of urgency to document his daily life.

He’s still changing, not as rapidly or noticeably as in his younger years, but change is still happening. The change that has rocked me the most, the change that challenges my love of photography more than any, is his willingness to be photographed.

Now I maneuver moods and preteen boundaries when I pick up the camera. In his early years I had to go get the camera, today the camera is always with me. His willingness has escaped.

When he was a toddler I photographed every moment I could. I told friends and family that if he ever asked me to stop photographing him, I would honor his request.

I’ve reached that day and I’m not happy with the noble plan I drafted.

Today he might ask to be photographed. Doubtful. I will, of course, oblige. Tomorrow when I ask for one, he may refuse, and I will begrudgingly oblige. I want to have more days like the first, but I’m not counting on them.

 

I know this is all part of the process. This is all part of him growing older and independent as he prepares to leave me. I know many of you have endured that already. Many of you have had to shift your lens toward new subjects.

It’s not that I haven’t always photographed other things — other people, flowers, vegetables, daily pieces of life, and landscapes. I’ve just never enjoyed photographing anything as much as I’ve enjoyed photographing him.

Photographer Sally Mann said, “unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.”

There is nothing that I love more than Ian.

So is my good art stage dead?

Okay. Perhaps I’m being a little melodramatic. I love other things too. Just not as much.

Can a tomato every compare to my child?

So here I sit, working to redefine my photography and what I love. Where the everyday bits of life drove my photography before, I struggle now. Is that struggle because I’ve been at this daily task for so darn long or because of Ian.  Who is to say?

So the point of this meandering tirade?

Things change.

We can choose to change with them or leave behind the very photography we love. Because isn’t that really where it all started for so many of us?

The love of the camera.

The love of pushing the shutter and letting light in?  Maybe our subjects don’t matter as much focusing on the craft that allows us to slow down and express gratitude for ALL of our potential subjects.

If we revisit Sally Mann’s quote, you’ll discover there is a third, overlooked, line.

The things that are close to you are the things you can photograph best. Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.”

As he develops his independence, I’m challenged to develop mine as well.

Have you been there? Has your subject shifted as the things that are close to you have shifted? How did you handle it?

 

Read more about photographer Sally Man on her website or in her book Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs.


7 Comments

  1. Linda Veldhuizen

    My willing subject has moved to the other side of the state for college. Her sibling is much harder to photograph. He only allows me to take pictures if I promise not to put them on Facebook. I obey his wishes and take the hits from The family members who live far away and enjoyed a lens I to the world of their niece and nephew. This too shall pass. I am happy to have my shots when I can get them. 12 years of getting the first day of school picture and I was only allowed to take it if he was behind the wheel of the car. That shot will always hold special memories especially if it is only one of ten for the year. I feel for you Katrina, hang in there!

  2. Wow this was exactly what I needed to read today. I have really been having a struggle. I think I will takes notes on this in my photography notebook. Thank you.

  3. Just wait a few years. I have a 17 year old about to turn 18. He now wants me to photograph his senior pics. He hardly ever fusses now when i try to take his picture. He rather likes it.

  4. I’ve been there and it will be ok.

    Like a lot of parents, I started photography because of my kids. I was taking so many photos through their different stages of growing up that I actually realised that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up. LOL!
    They would pose for me all the time and were happy for me to try out new ideas on them before I tried them on clients.

    Then came the teenage years and the photos became less frequent and we went through a time when they wouldn’t let me take photos, even for private family albums. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t devastated.

    But, I’m happy to say that this phase didn’t last for very long.

    It was during this time that I started to get into still life photography and it became my creative outlet. This area of my photography improved so much that I started taking food photos for restaurants.

    My kids are now 17 and almost 15 and I’m very happy to say that they want their photo taken now. And they love to get involved with what I’m creating, helping behind the scenes and giving me ideas.

    I realise that I had to go through the bad times to get to the good times. We’ve come out the other side even better than before. xx

  5. Rhadonda Sedgwick

    Funny that you wrote this post. I was thinking about you the other day. As I have followed and been with you for part of this 365 journey. I was wondering how things would change for you and what your thinking would be. I’m one of those on the other side of kids no longer at home and now my camera does point to other things and I have learned to love that too. Still nothing beats photos of the ones you love but other things photographed can bring satisfaction too. So carry on my friend!! You’ve got this. And I have discovered that even though there are times my kids say no to a photograph there are other times when they ask me to take photos, like engagement photos or family super hero photos. It’s all good! Hugs!

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