Finding Your Subject
(light up-tempo music)
Everybody makes photographs in a kind of general way, and then, after a while, there's a kind of itchiness. How do I bring my pictures together? How do I find a subject that I can concentrate on? I've been asked this question a lot during my life, and, you know, do we determine the subject first, or does a subject exist out there that defines us? It's a kind of odd little mix there that maybe each of you has to answer for yourself. But it comes around like this: you look at your contact sheets, or you look at your, on the screen, at the take you have in your photo program, and you begin to see that you, on every day, there is a certain kind of picture. Mothers and children, let's say, or sisters, you've been photographing sisters for some crazy reason. So, it's almost like the subject is already there for you, but you've been generalizing about it. So, when you look at your selections of photographs, you might discover that, "Uh, I've got something "I'm truly i...
nterested in." And that raises your level of awareness just one step, and you think, "Oh, I'm gonna go and keep my eye open "for sisters," or for whatever the subject is. I'll tell you what happened to me once. This might be really useful. I was editing work on light box in the days before computers, and I had hundreds of slides out on the light box, and I was looking for some images to solve a problem for an advertising agency. And as I was going through the pictures, I noticed a funny picture of somebody with flowers. And then I noticed another picture of somebody with flowers. You know, not holding flowers, but they were wearing flowers or they were standing in flowers. Anyway, after a while, I had three or four of them on the light box, and I thought, "Do I photograph flowers?" And I thought it's kind of funny, because the flower as a subject is a real cliche, so how can I beat that cliche at it's game? So, I thought to myself that while I'm editing all these pictures, I'm gonna keep my eye open for anything with a flower in it, whether it's on a curtain, or on a person, or they're carrying them, or whatever. And, by then end of the edit, I had 50 or 60 pictures, with a flower in it, sitting out on the desk. And I thought, this is crazy; I'm gonna have to go through my whole archive, which I did. And it wound up that I had hundreds of photographs in which the flower made some appearance, and I thought, "I'm gonna make a book out of this, "but before I do that, I'm gonna add to it." And so, suddenly, in my kit bag of subjects, because you can have more than one subject at a time. It's okay; it's legitimate to be interested in more than one thing. So, I went out on the street, and whenever something with a flower in it, on it, carriage, trod upon, background, foreground, whatever, even a cloud that looked like a flower, I would add it to my collection of pictures. And finally, I had really hundreds and hundreds of those photographs, and I was able to make a book that crossed all the categories. They were portraits, there were landscapes, they were interiors, there were still lifes, they were set-ups. Every conceivable way that the flower could appear became part of my book. So here a subject popped up for me out of the editing process, but I'm saying to you that the editing process is something that happens to you every time you download a chip full of pictures. You get 50, 100, 200, 400 pictures sitting on the desktop for you to look at and to help you identify what it is. So, if you are looking around for something to take you on a very special journey into your own interests, look into the work you have already, and see where it is you've hit, again, and again, and again. Your subject has defined itself already. You just haven't recognized it, and that's your responsibility. I can't tell you, "You should do this." I'm only telling you that you probably have already done it. And this is a way of inspiring you to go look harder at your archive, and once you name that subject for yourself, other ones will come to you so easily, because you already primed your own pump. You are full of subjects. You just have to let them gestate and come up and take you on this incredible adventure.