Photography is a hugely varied and subjective medium. It’s easy to appreciate the masters of their art or craft – the work of renowned masters such as Charlie Waite or Don McCullin speaks for itself. But many photographers work outside of these parameters, and produce work that is less obvious. It asks different questions of the viewer, which may not even be the same questions from one viewer to the next. The photographer’s reasons for taking the picture may not be readily apparent, especially if the image is an abstract one.
Some abstract images will have obvious references to shape, form or colour, and can be appreciated purely on an aesthetic level. They may reveal something of the photographer’s personality, but it isn’t always necessary to interpret the image.
Occasionally, though, we find photographers whose work may be less immediately accessible, and is much more subjective in its appeal. Seeing a single image in isolation might reveal nothing about the photographer, and might even be just dismissed as a poor image. Seeing more images may reveal a more definite pattern, or approach, but the photographer’s vision may still not be understood.
And that’s the point of this post. More engagement is needed when meeting such work. Whether it’s empathy, or merely open-mindedness, who knows? You either “get it”, or you don’t.
I was fortunate to come across one such photographer, Susan Bittker, quite serendipitously, in a brief exchange on Twitter about the subjectivity of the “story” in photographs. We clearly shared a common point of view. She was kind enough to send me a book of her work, and one of her late father’s work, which had been influential to her.
I also checked her web site out, and found it absorbing. Her work doesn’t fall neatly into any of the usual categories, such as “street” or “abstract”. It has elements of many different genres, but is best described as “personal observation”. Her approach is pretty unique, in that she never post-processes her images. They’re presented exactly as they come out of her fairly basic digital compact camera, completely unaltered – not even cropped. The images thus reflect exactly what she sees. This is a degree of honesty rarely seen in a photographer’s work. She doesn’t impose her version of a story on the viewer, it’s left entirely up to them. “This is what I saw – make your own mind up about what it means”. (I’m over-simpifying this, but it’s the essence of what I’m trying to get across.)
I love that. Not everybody would, but I doubt that Susan worries about that. The integrity of her images is much more important. Have a look at Susan’s web site, and see if you agree.