Venice is a photographer’s dream in January. You will find a lull in tourist foot traffic and Venetian women emerging snug in their long fur coats looking regal even when toting around their food trolley full of groceries in Rialto Market. Venetian light is like the texture of a cucumber that has been plucked from an ice bath: crisp and cool but with the moody depth of winter. It is no wonder Beth Kirby and Skye McAlpine decided to host their 5 day food photography workshop there last year in a stately palazzo and I was one of the eleven who attended. Here is where I warn you, this is not a review of the workshop so if that’s what you’re looking for, turn back now.
It has become a habit of mine to start the new year with clear creative intentions – sometimes it fizzles out like the cliché of new year resolutions and sometimes when I’m lucky it has the staying power of a slow burning flame. In January 2016 I was looking for a different perspective. This is perhaps a faux pas to admit as a working photographer but I felt blinded and uninspired by the monotony of pictures I was making and the ones I kept seeing, mostly on Instagram. In the end I didn’t find what I was looking for in the photography workshop (it was a fools errand anyway, I’m not sure one can teach perspective?) but I left with a clearer idea of where I wanted to head to stylistically, a new supportive group of creative friends made up of Venice workshop alums and a constructive portfolio review from Beth. And of course the ability to make photographs of scenes I wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
As I started to consider my 2017 intentions for photography I recalled a passage that stayed with me from the book Within the Frame by David duChemin. For those who are suffering from Instagram photography fatigue or frustrated with your own work but not quite sure how to frame it, I share this with you:
“Making photographs of unusual things – exotic places or people, novel subjects – is the low-hanging fruit in photography. While there is plenty of value in photographing the unusual, merely filling the frame with something exotic does not make it a good photograph; it makes it merely a photograph of the unusual or exotic. Whether it is a compelling photograph must be judged on other criteria.
Subject matter alone – separated from the craft of photography – rarely carries a photograph, and when it does it remains merely a mediocre photograph of a fascinating subject, hardly the goal of most photographers. If by creating an image of the exotic you are hoping to say, “Look at this!” then by all means center it within the frame, set the camera to automatic, and take the photograph. But if you want to communicate something more, if you want to bring something new to the table, and put your own thoughts, feelings and personality into the image, then you need to photograph your subject matter as though you’ve seen it a thousand times and then suddenly see it in a new way.”
I am going to work on avoiding the low hanging fruit in photography. I am hoping there will be more hits than misses. Regardless I am excited to just try.
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