Merriam-Webster defines “Vision” as the act or power of seeing.
They also give this definition: The special sense by which the qualities of an object (such as color, luminosity, shape, and size) constituting its appearance are perceived through a process in which light rays entering the eye are transported by the retina into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve. Which is obviously literal and scientific and they follow it with these two definitions: Mode of seeing or conceiving and Unusual Discernment or Foresight (Noting “A person of vision”). Another on-line definition I found was “The act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be”.
Now I know that neither source was defining Vision as it relates to a Photographer’s Vision but that was why I was referencing the definition of Vision, and I liked what I found. Those definitions actually did a pretty good job describing Vision related to how I see the world as a photographer.
The first definition is the physical act of seeing, and the scientific description is well accepted, no need to go on there. Then I considered the next definitions: “Mode of Seeing”, “Conceiving” and “Unusual Discernment” as well as “Foresight”. Now I realize at this point Mirriam-Webster was referring to the thought process of a visionary but I realized those definitions actually apply well to me as a photographer and should apply to all photographers. As a photographer I am constantly seeing images in my every day life. Constantly framing images in my mind, if not with my camera, and constantly aware of the world around me as it relates to potential images. I am also very aware of light, especially the quality of light, and how I can use it to capture images with value. But for a complete definition of a Photographer’s Vision we need to also include the photographers personal filter.
When I use the term Personal Filter I am referring to the process where I decide what to photograph and what not to. It is how I interpret the world, its how I am drawn to images that interest me, and it basically is just the process of photographing. The next question then is where does this Personal Filter come from or how is it developed.
I believe the biggest part of seeing and recognizing images as it related to being a photographer is a God given talent. I believe the same is true for any talent; singing, athletics, you name it I think the most talented people in this world are given a special foundation that sets them apart. But the key with every skill or talent is they have to be developed. To become the best at something you need to work at it. You need to be exposed to your craft, you have to study it, you need to practice it, and you have to stay committed to it. There are so many people who have wasted amazing talents, plus there are so many examples of people with moderate talents who have worked their asses off to achieve great things. It definitely is a combination of talent and effort.
So this led me to think about what were some of the greatest influences on my own vision as a photographer which really is the main topic of this blog post.
Both my parents were born in 1926 so the 1940’s really was their era. As most every kid does, I grew up watching the movies and television shows they watched. Classic black and white movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s which often relied on lighting techniques, not special effects, to create drama. A lot of the Film Noir era, with just amazing cinematographers capturing incredible images, and actors who really were suited to their roles visually. Another factor in my development was we didn’t have a color television in the house until I was almost 13 years old (My dad brought home a used color TV so they could watch the Bicentennial Celebrations in color). I still love old movies, and I really enjoy watching them now being more aware of the photographic compositions and lighting. I grew up in a black and white world, on many levels.
Another one of my influences is a little different, it was publications like Sports Illustrated and Sport. I also saw Time, National Geographic, and other picture magazines which I assume influenced how I see but I really loved the images in the sports magazines. I usually didn’t read the articles much, I am not a great reader to this day, but I devoured the images. I remember being in awe of how good the photographs were and either wanting to be able to make photographs like that or know more about how know how they did it. In my teenage years I wasn’t thinking about becoming a photographer but I do remember always loving good photographs and being very aware of things I liked about images.
Now, I don’t know if the next “influence” is more an influence or that my interest in the item is just indicative of how I have always being drawn to images, but from an early age I remember being very aware of the photographs on baseball cards (and other sports cards). I still am to this day. It always has felt like when I got a pack of cards I was getting a set of photographs, as well as the cards. Obviously when I was a kid I would get excited when I got one of my favorite player’s cards but I clearly recall how much I loved getting cards with game action photographs on them. This was when I was 9 and 10 years old. Looking back now the action photographs on those cards were pretty bad, but for whatever reason I loved them. Now most every card is an action image or unique candid and the printing today also is amazing compared to the cards back then. I still pick up a few packs a year to see what they look like and it’s a funny thing there is a weird similarity between opening a pack of cards and photographing. When you get that pack you don’t know what's inside, and when you open it you can get great images and cards, or sometimes you get weak or average cards. It’s no different than when I go out to photograph. Sometimes I am at the right place at the right time and get solid images. Other times no matter what effort I put in to it the images just aren’t there.
My education at Arizona State University obviously helped me hone and develop my skills and vision, as have all the different images I have seen throughout my life. A huge part of my ASU education was my teachers helping me to understand how to evaluate my work and be conscious of how I was seeing images. Viewing photographs after obtaining a formal education is obviously a different experience but I have never tried to replicate another photographer’s style or vision, everyone sees a little differently. I think the thing I benefit most with looking at other peoples’ images now is to help me focus on print and image quality. I remember holding a Weston print just after graduating and being blown away by the tonal quality of the print. I have had similar experiences looking at Adams and Stieglitz prints too. I could go on with more examples but I think I made my point. With this post I just wanted to give some insight to how I developed as a photographer, for anyone who enjoys my images and was interested.