What is about you that makes you different and separates you from others within your craft? This is a very important question. What kind of responses do you first think of? Go ahead, write them down specific to you, I’ll wait.
If you feel like it, share it in the comments below.
For example, last week Thomas posted about his band, The Northmen, and their new EP being released. His passion for music and his experience producing an EP in studio allows him to relate to people, especially musical artists, in a way that’s different than someone who doesn’t know or care about music. And relating to people is the key to everything with portrait photography.
Simplest answer is the best. You are you, and they are them.
Simple as it sounds I know I’m guilty of forgetting this fact. I’ll become obsessed with trends and/or technology that are catching on among other photographers. I’ll think up concepts for photos that are only skin deep, like “this is a cool location, or a cool model.” Yeah it sounds simple, but that question of who are you? can be pretty darn intimidating
If you want to find your voice you’ve got to dig deeper and reflect on what you know and how you see things that is different from others. To quote Chase Jarvis, “don’t be better, be different”… but the additional caveat is that “different” should be a truth about yourself (not some ploy to get attention, for example).
If you want to find your voice you’ve got to dig deeper and reflect on what you know and how you see things that is different from others.
So that’s one of the reasons that I photographed my own father last month when I was in Lethbridge visiting for his retirement from teaching for 33 years. I knew I was the best person in the world equipped to tell his story a certain way. I’ve talked with him about the highs and lows of preparing to retire and I’ve personally reflected on what my Dad’s identity as a teacher means, and how it must feel to somewhat relinquish that (though I’m pretty sure he will always be a teacher and coach at heart). I was also very invested in capturing my Dad’s image and spirit in a photo for posterity because I had never really photographed him like I would photograph a subject and I thought that was an interesting exchange.
I asked him, “what are you going to miss the most?” He told me a few things, such as interacting with a lot of fellow teachers that are his friends but he know he won’t see as often, and the kids themselves always laughing and being very active which keeps him feeling young. Above all, he said he would miss all the kids that he will never teach. The ones that he has interacted with at his school, but might be several grades before they would get to his class. Or furthermore, the kids that he has no idea about yet that are still toddlers, but all have these wonderful possibilities before them if they are given the opportunity. To him, the greatest thing was seeing and helping these children learn, develop, mature, thrive, and every other synonym for grow that you could possibly come up with.
That image at the top is the one I most wanted to create. Somewhat reflective and sad (kind of like he’s waiting for the next class to come), but hopefully there’s an element of contentment you can feel. I know it’s hard to separate interpretation once you know what the image is supposed to mean, and likewise it’s hard for me to separate my knowledge of him and the experience of being there from just the photo’s own merit and narrative.
These kind of personal images or projects are what should fuel you, and ultimately your body of work and portfolio should reflect these things as well. It doesn’t matter if you were hired or paid for it or not, but that you show passion and energy about things specific to you.
Maybe some of the poses aren’t picture perfect or as flattering as others could be, but I know that they are honest. They aren’t candid so much as I just waited until he looked like I’ve always remembered him. They are how he is, and perhaps that is why I’m the best person to make these images.
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”