That’s how I started in photography. I think it’s how we all start. There’s no client, no place what we do has to fit in. If we have a project at all, it is vague, and if in the course of things a strong picture emerges that doesn’t seem to fit…we changed the project!
But when we develop as professionals we develop all kinds of parameters and strictures, some very insidious. Like, can I use a picture to get work? Does it look like what others are doing, like want clients want? How can I monetize it?
They are all fair questions. But there are no good answers to them. So I think that it is really important that from time to time we should set them aside and walk out the door with the intention to take pictures that specifically don’t fit..
We’ve all had that moment of working through a bunch of files and coming across a picture that just stops us cold. It looks as though someone else took it, and we are just struck into silence. In fact, that “someone else” is us, a version of us that is a better photographer than we are. And we really need to track that person down and get to know them. They are out on the front edge of our work, and they are what we can become.
So if you’re a successful food or wedding or portrait photographer, why is it important to do this kind of thing? Look, great commercial work has a sense of surprise, of life leaking in at the edges, and people, our clients and their clients, respond to that sense of aliveness. If you don’t believe me, go visit some photographer’s sites. Lots of people put their own work apart from whet they do for clients, so look for a “personal work” section. You’ll tend to find that the personal work is so much more alive and invigorating than the client work. It is the work that got them started, keeps them going, the work they believe in.
And if we really attend to that part of us that looks for the unsought juxtaposition, the moment in which something unexpected manifests for a millisecond, it will influence our work for clients. Our commercial work will look more alive and compelling. Of course, there’s a good chance they may not choose to use it, but that’s never a reason not to do it. The best work never comes from filling an assignment, it comes from exceeding it.
So we need to spend real time taking pictures that look nothing like our work, that don’t look like anything we’ve ever seen. It is what made us.