Cliches stand the test of time because they contain some underlying truth, and I’m facing one of those right now.
Who hasn’t felt the truth of that zinger, usually accompanied by a sense that something wasn’t accomplished on time. Today I’m fortunate enough to savor the flip side … time has slipped by, I did accomplish something, and it really feels good. I started writing these photo essays years ago, mainly as a way of releasing some of the pent up enthusiasm I have for photography. The by product, I hoped, might be that others would not only pick up on my excitement, but become inspired about their own photography. Guess what? It worked.
I was leading an AmericanPHOTO Mentor Series trek last week in Lexington, KY (who’d have thought I’d move to Atlanta and then have photo travel take me back to my home state almost immediately!). One of the participants, who I’d never met, came up and introduced himself. He then proceeded to tell me how much he enjoyed reading my articles (now my blog) on photography, but he had a bone to pick. “A blog implies you will be adding to it. You’re not writing often enough”, he remarked. My first thought, which sort of blurted out before I could pull it back was, “You read MY blog?” Not cool for a published writer, even a self-published wanna be. When I recovered, I had to agree with him and promise to be more diligent, though coming up with something original isn’t always easy and a lot of what I have to say other people have already penned, and with better grammar.
However, this morning I had an epiphany. Seriously. Lying there in bed staring up at my wife’s digital clock display on the ceiling (it happened at 5:58 am EST, but Cindy didn’t find about it until 6:03 when she heard me chuckle to myself). For years, quite literally since people first noticed my photographs and graciously anointed me a professional photographer without knowing any better, I’ve been asked, “What kind of photographer are you?” I never had a good answer. Those of you who know the circuitous path I’ve followed (from medicine) with a camera understand why. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have years of on the job experience shaping me into someone who knew what they did and why they worked with a camera. I just realized that I wanted to pick up a camera everyday and sometimes I made a photograph that was pretty neat. I quickly discovered that I couldn’t say “pretty neat” and get anyone to take my photographs seriously, so I stepped up to a better grade of adjective. “I make photographs that are visually provocative.” Use provocative and they know you’re a serious artist.
I garnished that thought over time (nothing makes you form your own ideas better than constantly having people ask a question for which you don’t have an answer) and came up with supporting verbiage to assemble a pseudo-statement about my work, but it never really seemed to ring true about where I knew my photographs came from, but couldn’t put into words.
But that was yesterday, well really before 5:58 am this morning. Today it suddenly became clear. What’s more, I’ve coined a new term (possibly a new genre) that fits me like a glove! This morning I was thinking how I admired the fact that someone who captures the reality of the world in photographs has a great term they can use to describe what they do and who they “are”: photojournalism / photojournalist. Then it dawned on me that the pictures of mine I love the most portray characteristics of the subject in a way that communicate the emotion I was feeling when I made the photograph. I simply needed to create a new label for the type of photographer I am.
Not photojournalism. Photoemotionalism. Not photojournalist. Photoemotionalist.
Photoemotionalism is a particular form of photography (the collecting of photons with an image rendering device, i.e. camera) that creates a rendering which communicates an emotional state or feeling. Photoemotionalism is distinguished from other closely related branches of photography (documentary photography, landscape photography) by the qualities of:
- subjectivity – the situation implied by the images while having its origins in reality may be depicted in a manner that alters reality to achieve its intent, i.e. express a feeling, by means of digital manipulation or other creative mechanism
- timelessness – the images have meaning independent of the time or place in which they were taken
- independence – no narrative, either photographic or literary, is required in order for the viewer to interpret the work on an emotional or personal level
one who practices the art of communicating emotion by photographs, esp. in fine art prints or magazines
Remember you read it here first. Mark Alberhasky / IMAGEMA
Now, what good is it to have a label and genre if you can’t back it up with a really neat (whoops, I did it again) picture. Here is one of my latest photoemotionalistic works. Doesn’t that just roll off your tongue?
This image of festive dancers in traditional Carnival costumes was taken in Puerto Rico. It is a great example of what I’ve been rambling about. I was there leading a class for the Nikon sponsored AmericanPHOTO Mentor Series, while performers danced in the strong midday sun. At face value there was little sense of mystery, but the masks were quite dramatic. I saw figures that were very surreal, and the challenge became crafting a shot appropriate to such an interpretation. Creating a “dreamscape” would require motion and dizzying perspective, so I shot my Nikon D3 using a slow shutter speed from near ground level with the Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 lens, intentionally framing away from horizontal. The final result transcends the reality. The colors are accentuated. Any offending details (building signage, wires, etc) were removed because they would detract from the artistic intent. The final image catapults the viewer to a place they’ve never been. If you could see the pictures taken by other photographers present, you’d see that the non-photoemotionalistic shots are quite different, both in effect and content. I like to think I made an image that captured how I felt about these figures (rather than just how they looked) and that it is uniquely different from all the other shots made that day.
Photoemotionalism. You won’t find it in Wikipedia or by Google search. Yet. **
**Note to readers … 48 hours after this blog entry, “photoemotionalism” became a searchable term on Google.