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Photographic Statement and Purpose

Fred G. , May 18, 2011; 12:55 p.m.

Do you make statements and have a purpose with regard to your photographs? I do, though it's come about as part of an evolving process and the statement I'm making has become more focused over time. I expect it to continue evolving. I'm not talking about abstract purposes or general themes. I'm talking about something you can talk about with at least some degree of specificity.

I set out on an exploration with my work, after first taking a more passive and distant approach, shooting from literal and metaphorical shadows on the street at people I found interesting. That grew into engaging with people, usually people in the gay community that I met through friends, social situations, ads placed in various places, word of mouth, joining a photo club, etc. I found myself mostly interested in shooting men around my age. Slowly, I realized I was wanting to say something about aging and, especially, the physical side of that. I saw our bodies related strongly to the visual aspects of photography. So photographs seemed a great way to communicate about this. I found that many of us were still quite physical, though physically changed in so many ways from when we were younger. I found a lot of men willing to assert their sexuality, still play with it, and still willing to be very physically oriented. They were willing and in some cases anxious to explore that with me photographically. That often helped us open up emotionally as well. One way to put this statement, this purpose, into words is that I am making these men -- physically and emotionally viable even as we age -- visible. We seem to disappear to younger guys, who often have little use for us. Many of us seem to disappear even to ourselves. We don't recognize ourselves because we continue to picture what once was. I want to remind us that we are still here . . . and remind others.

Brief slideshow: MEN (includes nudity)

Many photographers aren't message oriented and can't, won't, or don't want to translate their work into a coherent and specific statement or can't, won't, or don't want to state a particular purpose. Many do. I do. One photographer told me today that he wishes he had gone in a photographic direction of "giving something back" in addition to creating photographs for their own sake.

I think bodies of work can be evidence of statements and purpose and I think individual photos can be so as well.

I don't think it's necessary or better than many other ways of photographing.

Do you have a photographic statement to make? Have you done so in your work overall or in some specific photo or photos? How has that come together for you?


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John A , May 18, 2011; 02:29 p.m.

I see a mix regarding statements and find that because of where photography has developed that it is harder for one person to fully understand the vast number of concerns being explored--and visual solutions- out there by only looking. So I generally look first, then read a statement, and then look again. Sometimes when there is no statement I just find it harder to connect with the work. On the other hand, overly explanatory statements can ruin the life of the work by defining it too specifically. One that I read recently was not all that specific over all but specific enough that looking at the work created a disconnect with what was said versus what I was looking at--and the work was familiar enough as to the idea and presentation that this was not what I would have expected. As such, my conclusion was that the work had a disconnect with the intent.

I have a statement attached to all of my series of work on my website. I try to discuss generally what my motivations and concerns are about but let the work take it from there. Personally, I think developing the statement is part of the process of making sense of our own work and then allowing others to at least get oriented in the direction we at least thought we were heading. The viewers experience might be different as they bring something unique to them to their viewing of the work and I don't have any interest in controlling what they see or experience--good or bad. Over time, I find the statements change a bit or are modified, but also provide insight into how someone's ideas and concerns evolve--even my own.

Fred G. , May 18, 2011; 02:40 p.m.

*John, I may have been unclear. I wasn't talking about written statements accompanying photos. I was talking about making a statement and having a fairly specific purpose with the photos themselves. I was asking whether people attempt to make more or less specific statements with their photos, NOT WITH WORDS. Thanks. And sorry that my post wasn't more clear about that.*

John Kelly , May 18, 2011; 02:44 p.m.

The Nan Goldin video (other thread) was a revelation to me, and far more than a "statement."

Fred's photography conveys much more than he's able to convey verbally. If he was ever able to make a clear statement in words I wonder if he'd have accomplished as much as he has photographically, or as much as he will.

I'm not adept with written poetry. More ephemeral, spoken or sung, it can come close to what I want in photographs. But moments of song or spoken poetry have no value without engaged listeners, just as photographs have no value without momentary engagement of viewers. Everything I want is fleeting and it often "upsets" me : http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hardin+upset+the+grace&aq=f

Sometimes photographs seem to convey those fleeting moments.

John Kelly , May 18, 2011; 03:01 p.m.

This is the link. It's not a statement, it's a depiction, a hope. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdbBMYgFPuE

Fred G. , May 18, 2011; 03:04 p.m.

I knew John Kelly wouldn't be able to get the point. Now that he's out of the way, I hope we can proceed.

John A , May 18, 2011; 03:04 p.m.

Fred, I think I might have gotten drawn that way because of the words you posted regarding what your concerns with your work are--essentially the written statement you ended up making above about your work.

But in some ways I suppose these two things are connected. Generally, I find that I tend to work in series and the work has a point to it, although maybe as I said above, not something that is closed ended. As such, I can certainly discuss my intent with the work but I do shy away from absolutes with regard to any piece or group.

The word statement has a certain power behind it to me when it comes to a single image, I have a harder time wrapping my arms around that in most cases. Sometimes it might be closer to a statement but maybe more often a suggestion to a "direction" or concern or thought of some type--specific or more ethereal in nature.

So, maybe it is the way I view "making a statement" in an image versus being able to discuss what an image is about generally--or part of--that causes me some pause here in my way of viewing this question.

John Kelly , May 18, 2011; 03:04 p.m.

John Kelly , May 18, 2011; 03:07 p.m.

Fred, your made your own case twice, I'm sorry you don't understand my response.

John A hit the nail on its entirely verbal head. I agree entirely.

John A , May 18, 2011; 03:12 p.m.

John, I can't keep up with your changes here :))

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