a blog by knut skjærven

Bits & Pieces: Do You Have A Photographic Mission?

Skin Deep © Knut Skjærven

Do you have a photographic mission?

Do I have a photographic mission? Hmm, interesting question and the truth is that I don’t know. On the other hand, I probably know a little more now than I used to know.

If you had asked me a year ago, no two years ago, I would have said that I have no photographic mission beyond that of taking pictures. However, the more I study photography the less important photography becomes in terms of having an existence of its own. Photography does not exist in a vacuum and it should not be treated as if it did.

Photography is just another way of being in and handling the world, so the question you ask is really a question of do I have a mission in life?

I think that most people have a mission in life even if they do not formulate it and spell it out in words. I find that it for me comes down to something like live and let live. If I can express that in photography that will be my photographic mission. Add to that: Do your best.

What I sometimes remind myself of is that time spent with photography, or any other activity for that matter, is time NOT spent with anything else. You can’t use the same capacity twice. Every economist knows this very well: You cannot both spend and invest the same money at the same time. If you try to do that you end up in a financial mess.

More specifically, I cannot at the same time take a seat at Café de la Paix for a day of shooting people passing the street, and feed the hungry ducks in my own back yard. Just as an illustration.

I utterly fail to see the benefits of what I call the dark league in photography. They go: Photography better be about death and sorrow, they say, so we can save the world with our images. Better be people portraits of folks without teeth too so we can show how miserable some are.

Shooting the odd drunk on the way to coffee at the Ritz is much too easy. It is also deeply disrespectful unless you make it your project and bring the poor fellow back home and give him a good life. Or give him a good day. Taking his picture will certainly not help.

As grown-ups and humans living among other humans in smaller and larger communities, we all are role models. That goes for photography too. If you want to be treated with respect, then show respect. If you want to be treated like a jerk, then be a jerk.

Basically, all angles (camera angles and real life angles) have the same right to exist, but the foot must be put down when the rights and the privilege of having angles at all, are threatened. They still are in many corners of the world. We don’t have to look far.

If the rights to take pictures with and from different angles are threatened, we can no longer use our cameras as they were intended to be used: Taking pictures from different angles, with different settings and in different contexts. I hope I will fight for that right. Call that a mission if you like.

I have to add one thing: You have to do the best you can. Always try a little harder. I don’t believe that any person should be satisfied with doing things half way or in mediocrity. Photography, mission or no mission, is mostly hard work.

If you absolutely have to save the world with your photography, be aware that progress comes from play and not from display. My 2P :-).

Bits & Pieces: IntroductionThe SourcesPicturetaking or Photography; The Mission; Additional Movement; Reinvented Reality;


2 responses

  1. As a photographer, one of the most important sentence is for me this one, from HCB : “Photography is a weapon who can change the world”. I think the same was said for writing. I lucky enough to use the two weapons. Lewis Hine, the photographers from the FSA and many others were able to change a situation or to make aware of a situation. Today, it’s more difficult because the weight of other media, notably the television. But on a TV screen, the picture flow to fast, rapidly seen, rapidly forgotten. A photograph lets the time to understand the meaning, the message. Sometime, this message is clear and can even shock. At another time, the message could be very liminar. It’s better : the message then installs himself into the viewer, and the vision of this viewer is a little bit changed, he sees the world a little bit differently. Its the addition of a lot of such tiny changes of a lot of people who can change slowly a society. It’s a longlasting revolution (or evolution if the “r” is lost).

    An other sentence about weaponery, from the filmmaker and photographer Chris Marker this time : “Photography is hunting. It’s the instinct to hunt without the urge to kill. It’s the hunting of angels… We hunt, we aim, we shoot and bang! Instead of a death, we make an eternal.”

    December 29, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    • Yes, photography as well as writing can change the world, indeed.

      And you are right: Many things have changed since HCB, the FSA-group and Jacob Riis. The point is that they all were artists with an extremely high level of dedication and of execution. I believe in that combination when you want to move something. But you cannot change anything without a real commitment. I do not believe in that.

      Hunting for angels. I like that. Thanks for responding, Bernard.

      December 29, 2011 at 11:26 pm

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