In a recent post by Sabrina Henry–one of the photographers I’m mentoring–some questions were raised on what is passion and how to find your passion. As is our usual practice, it became a conversation that I believe is important to many of us. For any art, the search for answers is individual and no one way fits everyone. Discovery of these answers can be guided by what others have done or their experiences in finding them but ultimately the hard work needs to be done by the person seeking them and are very personal. Below is part of my conversation with Anita who first posed these questions to Sabrina.
Do you need passion before you get to work or does getting to work making photographs “wherever you are” help develop/uncover passion and desire?
How do we find/understand what we want to say?
I have thought about these questions for a week and a way to put an answer in writing that makes sense for you. The problem with email or writing something is that it becomes a semi-definitive answer that may not fit everyone. Without feedback or that interaction and the ability to see how the words fall on someone, they become sort of sterile and may not be the right path for that individual. That’s much of the problem with books on the arts and photography and the problem with so much of the online jabber. An idea becomes diluted or misdirected when it isn’t a conversation. One way doesn’t fit everyone. So with all that said, I’ll attempt to help or at least try to give you a way to find your own answers because your answers will be yours alone and won’t fit anyone else.
Photography as a passion? Is it a passion to just document the world around us? Passions should be about experiencing–to do more than just record what others experience and feel. The idea of just being an observer seems a bit hollow to me and I believe, won’t lead to the kinds of images and expression that have lasting impact. Having a passion for expression is fine but what do you have to express?
Passion is discoverable I believe but it isn’t through the tools. People love photography and I am never sure if the love of it is for the ability to actually say something of importance with it or for the cool, technical things that go along with it. So when the tools of expression are out of the way–be it painting, music or photography–the true passion is about what you want to say with it. The things and emotions you want to explore and what you have to say about them. It isn’t about a specific thing like a certain flower or car or even genre of subject. Long-lasting and real passions are on a “global” level. I love to discover what makes people tick, why they feel the way they do and what makes them unique–the stories that make up their lives and how they became who they are. That may be my passion but it isn’t about a single type of individual or single type of people. It is something in all people no matter where in the world they are.
I have heard it said by folks that they are passionate about travel. I am not sure I understand that sort of generalization. What is it about travel they are passionate about? The cultural differences from home, the architecture, the people, etc? I am pretty sure it isn’t about the flying or the airport lines. It is through these sorts of questions we ask ourselves that we can find that “thing” we keep heading towards with an idea of expressing our feeling and view of it. This defines our passion. I think passion is, in some ways, the wrong word but it is as close as language can get for that which draws us in and drives us to find a way to say what we feel about it.
As it has been said “Don’t show me what you see show me how you see it“. It’s how you see the world and the parts of the world you are drawn to that will define your passion. Passion finds you as much as you find it. The “how to find it” is to let curiosity rule and to follow it wherever it leads. Ignore the rest and trust that curiosity. Don’t worry about defining your passion; let it define your work and to a certain extent, you. Too much is made of the “how” online and not enough of the “why” of photographs. The why is much more interesting and rare. Pretty doesn’t make a good photograph; subject and story do.
Passion is good but thinking about it gets in the way of having it. I never thought about mine until I had to help others define theirs so that they felt ok to be in the so-called conversation. The only art I have ever been involved in that talked about it is photography. In the others, the work said it for the maker. Passion never came up in conversation but then neither did the tools that made it.
Photography in some ways is a little too democratic and lets the tools define the work for the beginner. Instead of having a point to what they have to say, photographers tend to make photos and only then look for the meaning in them. Try making photographs that you have defined before you make them. This will tell you what sort of story you are looking for. Make images that express something you feel something about, not just the ones you happen to see around you. Pre-visualize the story and image first, then make it. Do enough of this kind of work and you will know what you want to say and how to say it in your way. Passion will be part of it and not something you search for.