On the importance of "Personal Photography".
Often we are asked the question, "what is your work about".
As professional photographers or at least people who take their practice seriously, we are continuously forced by our peers, by our audience and by industry folk to define our work in intellectual terms, forced to find some place for our images in the larger discourse of photography by way of artist statements and wall text. What is overlooked is the sheer act of photography that refuses by its very nature to be a literal exercise. We are not encouraged, as professionals, to nurture the instinctive impetus to photograph our lives, our minutiae, our confusion, perhaps simply our response to what occurs on infinitely complex levels around us and within us…. without trying to force it into words, as if by doing that, the act of photographing is somehow justified and made important. (Perhaps herein lies the potency of the photographer's relationship with Instagram, but that is another conversation for another time).
We also forget that in the act of trying to justify the click of the shutter, much of what we do takes on real significance in hindsight. We do not yet know the purpose and long-term consequence of what we do with our camera and if each frame and movement is classified by "project", by "client", by "assignment", the possibilities that begin now and end far into the future of our collective visual history will no longer have the same authenticity or gravity that it might have had if we had just allowed ourselves to be more free with our vision. We place too much stock in our prescience and our ability to judge what may be important for photography in a world that we will no longer be a part of generations from now.
The danger lies not within our need to work within the framework of a creative industry, because we know we all need to do that. The danger is the act of discarding and devaluing the photographs which do not fall neatly and precisely into such a framework. The danger is forcing complex, spontaneous and instinctive photographs into simplified explanations and thus hamstringing future, as yet unmade photographs into these structures. Much of what we make now as photographers, as people who in a very real sense make documents of histories, will escape our immediate understanding. By denying our personal photography because we cannot find a professional home for them, we run the risk of denying a future for images whose importance we have no concept of… the visual history or several interwoven histories which may not have a place now in the confusion of vernacular photographs exploding across the internet, but may yet filter through the course of time and find an important place beyond what we know or have a capability to understand.
Eggleston's democratic forest is deep and overgrown, true. We perhaps feel that we are in danger of being lost within a wilderness of instagrammers and tumblerites. We forget that the passage of time always finds a way to distill our present, our manic confusion into a series of events, illustrated and proven by the documents in which we leave behind. It will not be up to us to decide which photographs will be important through the centuries, it will be time itself, and the only role we can play is to provide the material from which time will siphon from for the generations to come.
Peter Earl McCollough
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