ART is not for the weak at heart. If you want to do something easy – go get a real job and frankly, get out of our way. I photograph and learn new things every day because I must. Photographing and teaching is my way to mark my place in this world with some sort of legacy.
Being a photographer is not just about making a picture or creating a product. It is about the process of maturing, of individual growth and gaining an understanding of history…for me, it is the history of photography, of myself and my subject matter. It’s related to what experiences I have had in my life and how I live my life. The act of seeing photographically and finding images that speak to me comes from a summary of everything I have ever done and felt. It’s this total body apparatus that makes a photograph, not the camera. The camera is just a recording device.
Knowing the history of our medium helped me understand where I fit in. We can learn a great deal from those who have gone before us. It’s not that you should copy them. That’s not good art. But after you have looked at enough work and processed what you have seen, you can begin to identify what works for you and develop your own style. This comes with time. It may take years of hard work to get on track or if you are really lucky, it may happen naturally and quickly. For me, having enough life experience and constantly learning new things has made the difference in how I see. With time and attention, things become much clearer as to what is being seen and how the mind and heart are going to deal with it.
Like any artist, the photographer must believe in what he or she is doing and work with great passion and commitment. It is required at every level and becomes a continuous effort. Commitment to a high standard of craftsmanship or technique is basic. You can’t speak the language if you don’t know the words. Commitment to staying long enough in a place or with a particular project in order to understand it and have it speak to you. This takes time and resources. And of course, commitment to discovering how to give something back to the process by supporting or enlightening others.
If you truly commit, your life and your work will progress forward as you are constantly learning to see more clearly. It’s not important how many great photographs I can make. At this time of my life, it is more about constantly learning new things and how many lives I can touch along the way by sharing what I have learned. Making a living as a photographer and teacher is a gift. It’s not easy. Unfortunately, what I have observed is that many people who call themselves photographers today don’t know photography. I see them mindlessly clicking without engaging the brain into the mix. They are creating thousands of mediocre images hoping that one of them will work or that they can fix it later. They spend a lot of time talking about tips and tricks and buying new gadgets because they have somehow gotten the idea that this is what it is all about. In so many cases, content, communication and craft has been lost and replaced by gathering equipment. The most important piece of equipment is the one you already own. It is located between your ears. We need to learn how to see photographically, crop to the essence, compose, understand light and shadow, and bring ourselves to the image with real knowledge of the craft. And when all of that is in control, we need to say something of value.
Learning what photography and life is really about combined with what your heart is telling you is at the core of a mature photographer. Living a certain amount of life helps this to make sense. Love things. Love learning. Experience life with all that is good and bad. This will create a valuable base for you to pull from. Commit to learning the craft and add that to an understanding of current technology and you have great potential. My mantra: Live it, Love it, Shoot it.
Nancy J. Ori has been respected for over three decades as a corporate photographer and video producer in New Jersey. She tutors privately and teaches photography classes and workshops in the US and Europe. Ori, affiliated with museums, art centers and universities, founded the New Jersey Photography Forum, the largest group of exhibiting fine art photographers in New Jersey.
This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 2011 Issue of Imprints Magazine.