“Photographers mistake the emotion they feel while taking the photo as a judgment that the photograph is good.” – Garry Winogrand
I regularly ask my students to choose their favorite photographs and their best photographs. These are separate activities; however, for the reason that Winogrand mentions above, beginning photographers often confuse the difference. Students can mistake their positive memories for positive assessments. Other times, students’ memories cloud their ability to judge (or see) their best work. In other words, if a picture doesn’t feel good, it must not be good… or so it would seem.
Gary Winogrand is not my favorite photographer. Nor do I think he is the best, but there is no doubting his influence, especially in the world of street photography. Three years ago, during the JEA/NSPA 2013 Spring National High School Journalism Convention, I visited SF MOMA ‘s Winogrand exhibit. Two days earlier, I had taught a photo workshop to student journalists. Until recently, I assumed that the workshop was a failure, because I measured the workshop by my emotions at the time.
I wish I had remembered Winogrand’s advice and waited before judging my photos.
It isn’t as if my photographs from the 2013 Spring Convention are incredible, but they are not as bad as I felt. I had been part of the coordinating committee for more than a year. I planned workshops. I built my expectations too. I expected that the 2013 convention would be the best and my favorite of the 13 conventions I had attended.
It wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t as bad as I remembered either.
While the Winogrand exhibit was at SF MOMA, Yale Professor Tod Papageorge gave an artist talk titled “Too Much is Enough.” If you have two hours, it is worth viewing. If not, I recommend that you jump to the one hour mark and watch ten minutes. Papageorge discusses Geoff Dyer’s concept of the Ongoing Moment and how Winogrand illustrates something more poetic than I had imagined.
Before the convention started, I wrote a blog post titled Getting Closer to the JEA Digital Photography Workshop. When I combine that title with Papageorge’s (Too Much is Enough), I think there might be a good philosophy for street photography, especially if we wait three years to review the photographs. Getting close and being “too much” is difficult. It can be painful. It can be emotional.
One month ago, I wrote an article for Adviser Update about photography and emotions called Motion, Movement, and Emotion. As a photographer, I must reveal my emotions to connect with people. As a teacher, I construct emotional barriers so that I can maintain a private life. I like to believe that there is a logical explanation or formula, but at best, there is a philosophy that allows some of us to process the light and the shadows.