What do you excel at? Technology is one of the many tools out there that allow us to excel in anything we want. With a simple gadget we can try out any profession we like and find another purpose in life. In this age of immediacy we can experiment in so many different disciplines like never before. When driven by passion we can teach ourselves anything, accomplishment and self-fulfillment are just a click away, be it a tutorial or you dad's old, banged up camera.
From a young age we're told to choose a career, a love life, a job, a house, everything, and we pour all of our efforts in honing our skills for one single profession. I grew up believing this and when the time came, I was frustrated with my indecisiveness. I guess technology gives you a breathing space to try on a new profession for a little while and see how things flow, at least it worked for me.
Photography is one of those disciplines that doesn't discriminate. We all have access to a camera on our phones, and social media like Instagram has become a gallery to exhibit our work. Perhaps with every picture you upload you realize that one of your passions is photography. Follow that path, you'll see there are many tutorials out there that'll teach you the basics. But before you pick up that daunting analogue camera, let's listen to some words of advice from one of the most famous and beloved photographers in history.
Diane Arbus is recognized for her controversial square black and white images of unconventional protagonists with whom she created special bonds with. No matter how much she was criticized, she never abandoned her vision and main project of capturing marginalized people of society. You probably remember her for her famous image of a little boy playing with a grenade, the same photograph that elevated her into an iconic status.So, if you want to become a photographer or want to polish your craft, check out these five pieces of advice Diane Arbus has for you:
Go to places you’ve never been before
This is a basic one. Being a photographer doesn’t only mean to take a camera and press the shutter. You must have a vision in mind and an artistic and creative eye to capture the essence of the subject. One way to exploit that dormant creativity, and at the same time widen your possibilities, is by going to those places you’ve never been before. This, of course, doesn’t only mean to travel the world, but to walk through your city or town and discover all those things you’ve taken for granted. Go to these places at different times of the day and see how the lights change the scenery around you. It’s the best way to improve your skills and define your project. Which takes us to the next point.
© Diane Arbus
Always have a project in mind
Something amazing about being a street photographer and carrying your camera all the time is that you won’t miss any single shot or image your experience. However, as Arbus tells us, it's important to always have a theme or a project in mind so you can elaborate it on the way. Every photograph you take has to be specific and has to be part of your own project. It’s the only way to really unveil your essence and vision as a photographer. This naturally doesn’t mean you can’t take photos of random things you like; it's all about adapting those things into your own theme of study.
© Diane Arbus
Fall in love with your subjects
This is what actually makes Arbus photos so compelling. Many of her subjects were often considered freaks (she was actually named at some point of her career as the “freaks photographer”), but the way she portrayed them shows the love and care she had for them, which naturally translates to the image. You don’t see them as freaks anymore, but you get to see them through her eyes. Choose subjects that speak to you on a personal level and pour all those emotions you feel for them so that anyone looking at your images understands your vision.
Read as much as you can
Like the first one, this is a must. Literature or any kind of texts can take you to new places you didn’t know existed. Moreover, they can be a great source of inspiration and help you hone your creative skills. Literature, especially, isn’t only about words and telling stories. Great authors have the ability to create mental images that each reader has to pull apart and adapt to their own realities, and perspectives. This is the best tool you can have to translate those symbols visually, but more importantly, in a way that reflects your own vision and personality.
Take bad photos
And finally, the one we’ve been promising from the start. You might be wondering how taking bad photos will help you create amazing ones? For Arbus –and this actually makes a lot of sense– the best way to find your own vision is by photographing everything related to your subject. Sometimes, in our eagerness to get the perfect image, we miss the essence of it, so just let your shutter go. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the perfect one; probably it’s way much better than you thought. Arbus adds that forcing ourselves to take bad photos will make you understand better the process and improve your composition skills.
The only way you can improve in any field is by trial and failure. Failure allows us to understand our flaws and see how we can improve ourselves, and that’s probably the best advice someone who succeeded in her discipline can give us.
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