Studying the pictures of fellow photographers has the benefit of helping me to see my own work from a different perspective.
My unique biases affect how I view and value my photographs. As I cull through the pictures of the day, I often dismiss photos for reasons that are mostly related to feelings rather than any objective criteria. And thoughts and feelings change from one day to the next, so that a picture deemed unsuccessful one day, might be more fully appreciated on another day. Time and distance can help me see a photo more clearly, deeply or with greater respect.
Often times I will scroll through my Instagram feed or pick up a photography book or magazine, and see a picture similar to one that I have taken – one that I tossed into the discard pile. When I see the photo from the perspective of viewer rather than maker, I begin to see the visual language that is actually present. I let go of fault-finding and adopt a more open stance toward my own work, a greater appreciation. Seeing a picture-like-mine helps me to evaluate my version, not in comparison, but in collaboration . . . as though I am working alongside another photographer and we are studying the pictures together. Kind of like reading a book aloud to a friend or sharing in a support group.
Such was the case with the beautiful film photograph of an old red MG by Niklas Andersson, featured on Physical Grain. I love this picture – the point of view, the raindrops on the car window, the sleek lines, the dreamy mood. Immediately my mind went to a similar photo I took just last week of a bright orange Chevrolet Bel Air on a side street near the local university. I liked the view of the car from across the street, showing the car in profile set against a yellow house with climbing vines. The whole scene had a distinctly vintage vibe. But I also took a few close-up views, some detail shots. These didn’t seem interesting to me, and maybe this is because I am not person who cares much about cars. After seeing and appreciating Niklas’ photo, I went back to study mine with careful attention and fresh eyes. I hadn’t thought to convert the picture to black-and-white and this simple edit changed the photo significantly, making the story richer and the details more poignant.
Most every picture is worth a second look.