It’s time for my last blogpost here, and I want to share a last thought about the idea of visual language. But not without expressing my thanks to the wonderful people at Hatje Cantz for allowing me to share my thoughts.
In my writings up to now, I have approached photography on a more theoretical basis, explaining how I see photography, and how certain ideas and concepts follow from that approach. But, is there a point to it, at all? Is there any way that practitioners could benefit at all from these ideas? I would like to believe they can. Besides a better understanding of the medium, I think that photographers can benefit from these ideas to become more successful in their practice.
With this, I do not mean that these ideas will allow anyone to take better pictures, as such, I mean photographers who take this approach might be better in running their business. Whether you want to sell prints, journalistic reportages, corporate portraits, or (self-published) books: one way or another it is important you find people who are interested in your work. But where to find them? How to approach them? And what will you offer them? Indeed, you can create a great book dummy, make a few of them, even: then send it to some people and hope it will end up in The History of the PhotoBook volume 4, 5 or 10.
But, that seems to me a bit like playing the lottery: if it happens, it is great, but it is hardly a strategy to build a career on. Instead, I suggest, and I hope to have made the point clear in my previous posts, that if a photographer has a clear point he or she wants to make, and is able to make that point through the images, finding the audience is not so hard anymore. This way of thinking will allow a photographer to address not the people within their own circle, but actually attract an audience that is concerned by the message that is being delivered.
I don’t want to make a strong point in favor of ‘Photographers as Brands’, here, but the ideas behind branding and marketing can bring important and relevant lessons for many people working in the photography industry. With a situation where it is so easy to take, and share photographs, where the value of a picture is in fact practically zero, how can you make your images seen and noticed? In previous posts I have written about visual language, context, narratives, and I think that these ideas reflect skills that are even more important for photographers than taking pictures.
Taking the picture might in fact be only the easiest part of the entire process. If photography is a visual language, the picture is only an expression of an idea. So, you need to have that message, that idea, concept, or proposal that you want to share with others. Then, the context in which that message is presented is highly important in understanding how the message will be received: a Facebook post, a photo book, a print on a gallery wall, will all have a different impact and will be received and understood differently.
How do you get your message across? I personally think that a story is the best way in delivering idea: to use a narrative to relay information about a certain event to somebody else. People love stories. We all read books, go to the movies, and stories have been part of human culture it seems since the invention of language. The story can be told by the the photographs themselves, or sometimes it is the story of the photographer himself who shot the images that is the storytelling element (in which case the idea of branding comes to the foreground again).
So, if a photographer has something interesting and valid to say, manages to find the right context in which to share that message, and is able to narrate that message through a powerful and engaging photographic story: I am quite sure that it is possible to find an audience that is willing to engage with the work. All these skills though are quite different from what we perceive to be the core capabilities of photographers. Surely, the billions of images that are uploaded daily on Facebook and other social media, are taken by people who do not necessarily have these skills, or are interesting in acquiring them. But those images are a reality, and professionals need to be aware of them, and find ways to distinguish their work from the overload of visuals everywhere. What I describe here is one way to handle this reality.