What Is The Role Of A Photographer?

April 21, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

To Show What We Are Unable To See


My Journey

In an attempt to define my 'niche' in photography, I asked myself "what is the role of a photographer?"  Browsing through some old albums with pictures I made when in high school and looking back at the pictures I made during the last 15 years, I suddenly realized that my real passion is to tell stories.  The albums are filled with attempts to create 'realistic' images of plastic ship and aircraft models, 'creative' pictures of railroads and buildings at weird angles, and images 'documenting' the old coal mine and other buildings in our village; all accompanied by short narrative sentences. Looking at more recent images this realization only became stronger: moving from general landscape, wildlife, and city scape shots my images are evolving towards images focused on detail, situations, and series of images that relate to each other in.....stories.

color picture of a small harbor village in Asturias, northern Spain, looking down from a mountainAsturian Harbor Villagea small harbor village in Asturias, northern Spain

A Revelation

By pure coincidence and with perfect timing I stumbled on a quotation attributed to Anais Nin: “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”  This made me realize that this is exactly how I see my role as a photographer. It also made me see what I try to achieve: not only creating fine art images, but using images to tell stories.

Telling stories, not to show what we all can see, but what we are unable to see:

  • Because we are not looking;
  • Because we don't want to look;
  • Because we look but just don't see it;
  • Because we look but don't want to see it.

color picture of two red apple baskets filled with green applesApple Basketstwo red apple baskets filled with green apples

My Goal

It is my objective to share a rendering of an object, a person, or a situation, looked at with a photographers' eye and vision.  Sharing and explaining my vision with stories that point out beauty where we typically won't recognize it, with stories that put the finger on things we might not want to see. With stories that sometimes are tongue-in-cheek, sometimes even sarcastic.  But always stories that share what I envisioned within the rectangle of the viewfinder and implicating what could be outside that rectangle.  And to be honest: while most of the time I take images with a story in mind, I too sometimes only see the story afterwards.

black and white night image of two people walking in front of a row of portable bathroomsTwice Dailyblack and white night image of two people walking in front of a row of portable bathrooms

The Tools Of The Trade

Creating stories means sharing my images with an intention: guiding you, my audience, towards an explanation of what you see.  To accomplish this I use three distinct formats: Pic Tales, Haiku, and Photo Essays / Editorials.

Pic Tales

These are short stories and poems with images that provide the audience with a pre-conceived viewpoint, guiding the viewer towards an image of reality as I perceived it. Although I want to direct towards a certain feeling, atmosphere, emotion, or point of view, I also want to encourage the audience to develop their own.  The viewer should be challenged to see my point, and agree or take an opposing point of view. The audience should ask themselves why I linked these specific words to these pictures.

I am telling the story and provide the images, but the viewer needs to see, read, feel, and make their individual interpretation.

black and white image of a canal in Brooklyn, NY, with a big smoke plume in the backgroundBrooklyn Burning, 2012black and white image of a canal in Brooklyn, NY, with a big smoke plume in the background
















The critique for one of my entries to the 2015 Artists Guild Gallery of Greenville juried small works exhibition (the one that got me an honorable mention) observed that the image reminded the juror of wabi sabi.  At that moment I had no clue...

Intrigued by this feedback, I did some research on wabi sabi, and discovered the very interesting video In Search of Wabi Sabi With Marcel Theroux.  This video and the concept of wabi sabi led me to explore more about Japanese imagery and culture, which led to discovering Haiku.  Although I sometimes use poems for Pic Tales, Haiku are so specific and appealing that I capture these on a specific page after publishing on my blog.  The objective I want to accomplish with each Haiku is to combine it with only one image to provide the viewer a very specific experience.

Low point of view color picture of a field of small pink flowersField of Pink FlowersLow POV picture of a field of small pink flowers














Essays and Editorial

Although there are differences (photo essays having no or only limited textual guidance, leaving the viewer to create their own narratives and conclusions whereas with editorials the main focus is on the text, supported by selected images) I grouped these together because in essence they represent to me a similar way of sharing my views.  To be honest, this actually is for me the most difficult way of storytelling: they have to be planned beforehand (remember I mentioned above that I too sometimes only see the story after taking the pictures?).  And basically the images - especially for photo essays - (need to) speak for themselves.

black and white picture of a medieval gate of the city of Avila, SpainAvila Gateblack and white picture of a medieval gate of the city of Avila, Spain















In Conlusion

I hope the above explains a bit the "why" and "how" of my images, and what I try to achieve.  My photographic journey has not ended, probably has only just begun.  But now I not only have curiosity as my road map, I also have found a destination: "The role of a photographer is not to show what we all can see, but what we are unable to see".

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