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Photography and Interestingness Part 3: Longevity, Substance and Authenticity

August 8, 2014
Noodle Station, Reykjavik

Noodle Station, Reykjavik. A good place for lunch on a warm summer day.

I wrapped up my June trip to Iceland and returned home already missing the place. Even though it rained cats & dogs for almost the entire 3 weeks I was there, I still had a great time exploring Reykjavik for a few days surrounding the 12-day South Iceland photography tour that Tim Vollmer and I co-led. We were joined by a great group of photographers from Canada, the USA and Australia. I’ll have more to show and share from the trip later. For now, I enjoyed looking back at this photo of the Noodle Station, one of my favourite Reykjavik lunch spots. I took it from the 2nd-floor outside balcony of Cafe Babalú, another good eating spot. 🙂

I’ve been busy as a bee in prime flower season since getting back, with big chunks of time going into all kinds of things, most of which haven’t yet come to fruition. One thing I did finish was finally completing part 3 of my article series on photography and interestingness, published as a guest post over at The Camera Store Blog. I invite you to check it out. If you have any thoughts about what I’ve written there, whether you agree, disagree or have a different spin on things, feel free to comment here. I’d love to get your feedback.

In the first two parts of the article series I put out some ideas on ways to put interestingness into your photographs. But what is “interestingness” itself actually about, anyway? In part 3, the wrapup of the series, I look at that question in the form of several contrasts that I see going on with photographers and photography these days.

  • First there’s the contrast of popularity vs. longevity. A photograph can attract immediate attention and make a splash on social media or somewhere else, but is it really interesting? If so, it will have the more important characteristic of longevity — an audience will maintain a sustained level of interest in the photograph over time.
  • Then there’s the contrast of style vs. substance. A photograph can be stylish in the sense that it’s got evidence of cool or au courant technique in its making or its visual look. But styles can be temporary and faddish; the true kind of style that means more than simply application of technique is something that emerges over time from a photographer’s body of work. And the thing that makes each photograph really interesting is not just its style, but its substance — the cake that’s there under the icing.
  • Finally there’s the contrast of novelty vs. authenticity. I personally feel in some quarters there’s an over-emphasis on trying to capture or show something new, because things that are new attract attention. But interestingness is about more than attracting attention, it’s about keeping it. I think a better consideration for building and maintaining interest is to do work that’s authentic… something the audience can understand is genuine to both the photographer and the subject, and not concerned primarily with being popular, stylish or novel.
Together Alone, Cypress Hills. This photograph was made in one of the areas our group will explore during the 2014 Fall Photography Masterclass: Storytelling In the Cypress Hills.

Together Alone, Cypress Hills. This photograph was made in one of the areas our group will explore during the 2014 Fall Photography Masterclass: Storytelling In the Cypress Hills. To me, this tree standing apparently alone among the rolling hills and flowing clouds is among the cast of characters in the story of the area.

To see the full article, I hope you’ll click through this link. At the top of the article, you’ll also find links back to parts 1 and 2. If you haven’t read them before, perhaps take a few minutes to go through the series. 🙂

One of the things I’ve been working with to add interest to my own photography over the past few years is the idea of visual storytelling. I believe most people naturally gravitate towards telling their stories and wanting to hear the stories of others. It’s a thing that binds together families, friends, communities and cultures. And it establishes meaningful connections from one of those groupings to another. When we tell our stories and hear the stories of others, we understand things that are truly interesting to them and to ourselves. So putting storytelling into the frame, rather than relying too much on things like style or novelty, can be a great way to add interest to the right audience of viewers.

Of course there are all kinds of storytelling. It doesn’t have to be some complicated or philosophical thing. It can be simple, fun, quirky, or whatever. 🙂 But there are elements of visual storytelling that go beyond just the composition and aesthetics of a photograph.

Interested in exploring how visual storytelling could apply to your own photography? My good friend Peter Carroll and I will be running a photography masterclass this coming September 5 – 10: Storytelling in the Cypress Hills. This is a small group intensive event focused on adding visual storytelling into your way of creative expression in your photography. We’ll be based at Historic Reesor Ranch the whole time, and will spend each day in a combination of seminars, photo reviews and of course lots of field work at the ranch and across locations in beautiful Cypress Hills country.

We have one room still open in the masterclass. To find out more, you can read my original post about the masterclass. Or feel free to contact me or Pete for more details.

What’s your take on the matters of popularity, style and novelty? Are they non-issues, or have we gone overboard on them in some ways? Do you focus on alternatives like longevity, substance and authenticity in your own work? Or do these factors not really affect why you photograph? Feel free to comment here…

I Should Be So Industrious, Calgary.

I Should Be So Industrious, Calgary. One of the things I’ve been spending some time with is a new camera, the amazing Pentax 645Z which I used for this photograph. I try not to focus on gear too much, and don’t write about it here that often. But certain cameras fit certain photographers or certain types of photography, and the Pentax 645 system fits me pretty well.

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