If Your Photographs Aren’t Good Enough …

… then you’re not close enough.
 

This is supposed to be a quick post so I’ll try and make it brief.

I’ve hated this popular saying in street photography circles for a wee while but I’ve now come to accept it’s lesson but perhaps not the way it’s often intended.

I think most people read it in reference to physical proximity and it’s often been offered to me in that context as well but I think it’s more than that (or at least it can be).

When you look at a large body of work like The Julie Project by Darcy Padilla which was an 18 year project that followed the life of Julie and her troubles with drugs, partners, her children and the state then finally AIDS.

You can’t help but be completely absorbed by the material and are left truly helpless by the end; if you haven’t seen it you really really should.

There’s also the famous photo essay by Eugene Smith of a simple ‘country doctor‘ that set a high standard for years to come. You can see the emotion pouring out of the page.

These are only two examples but illustrate my point; that’s what it is to be close to your subject. I see the embedded photo essay as the mature older brother/sister of street photography.

I obviously don’t have any such material, or will have any such material as far as I can see, but I do have photos from family events and I’ve treated them a bit like subjects in a photo essay and that’s as close to an embedded photo essay as I’ve got so far.

Now to try and get close.

End

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4 Comments

  1. wow…thanks for the link on the Julie project. Harrowing stuff.

    Anyway, yeah I totally agree with you. The photo-essay, documentary etc is indeed SP older sibling. Its the next step up so to speak. Getting closer: as it is often is in the SP community, its often meant in the physical sense…show your balls and get right in their face! It becomes too much about the “hunt” and how ballsy you are. Getting physically closer does a lot of times make more effective pictures but I think the point is missed or the goal mislead. Instead the next step should be go for “deeper” photos, photos that transcend an aesthetic. This is probably harder and takes longer to achieve.

    This sort of goes along with something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately…the idea of , to paraphrase from someone else, “graduating” from street photography…not to leave it, throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak but to evolve it and take it to the next level (at least some of the time), use the skill learned from it. Certainly to get rid of some of its dogmas though…that somehow one photo is worth less than the other (though it might be better in actuality) because it’s not of a stranger on the streets or completely candid or whatever. Perhaps all photos should be considered equal and only judged by whether their good or not? This is why I like your family photos such as showed above…theres a lot of skills etc learned from SP but applied to the familiar/personal as if it was just as worth the effort. Something I hope to put into more practice over the next year!.

    Anyway, good post, good food for thought.

    Reply
    • Hi Gavin.

      Thanks for your detailed reply! It’s great to have a discussion like this.

      I’ve often wondered if it was more balls over craft with some folk but that’s really not my problem I guess but you’re right, trying to find something deeper is even harder because it’s more than just balls it’s heart and maybe vision. That’s why you have the successful guys working on projects for years before publishing a single photo, they’re baking a cake and cakes taste better when they’re cooked.

      I’ve heard the ‘street’ being referred to as a training ground for photographers so like you said, use that training and apply it elsewhere. Candid doesn’t have to be with people you don’t know, I mean look at the photo Lesley won that street photography competition with.

      Thanks again!
      Si

      Reply
  2. Great post Simon, the Julie Project brought me to tears. Powerful imagery!

    Reply
  1. LTS | Life, Edinburgh

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