Making A Guide for the Modern Photographer
The traditional photography guidebook may be a relic of the past: A quick YouTube search can pull up nearly any camera function or technique you need to learn. But, as photographer Claire Rosen notes, technical skill does not equal mastery of the medium. Storytelling, originality and creativity are what elevate an image—and they are far harder to cultivate.
Rosen’s own work takes cues from many visual traditions, including fantasy, allegory, tableau, anthropomorphism, Victorian-era dress, Baroque painting and children’s books. Her influences, however, are highly personal and are a natural extension of her own identity.
The development of true personal style is one of the first topics she tackles in her book, Imaginarium. Making original work is a challenge when there’s a constant stream of images in our lives, she writes.
“Our culture has shifted in such a way that it’s easier to be a consumer of content rather than having individual experiences,” Rosen explains to PDNedu. Taking inspiration from someone else’s Instagram feed rather than your own experiences, for example, leads to homogenous imagery. And further, when you do develop a successful project that is deeply you, it can be hard to avoid replicating yourself when making new work. To avoid these pitfalls, she includes writing exercises on memory, preferences and mindfulness, as well as divergent thinking and dream documentation.
Rosen also covers professional aspects such as production and the viewer experience, down to personal habits like time management and self-care—including keeping a check on your mental and physical health, something Rosen herself has dealt with. Imaginarium is not meant to be a “how-to” on Rosen’s approach to photography, but instead guides readers to think about their own work “holistically” and to make creating a daily habit.
Building what she calls a “fulfilling and sustainable” practice takes time, and Rosen admittedly has to remember to take her own advice. She has a section on learning to say “no” to projects, something she is still working on. “I get very excited about projects, have a lot of interests and ideas and want to be accommodating to everyone [and], as a result, I still wind up taking on too much.”
And though it takes time to adopt some of her suggestions, such as building up your community, achieving long-term goals and coming into your own stylistically, there’s plenty to start on today.
“Try and think up one fun small side project that is relevant to you and your lifestyle, one you can do with little effort or additional resources; maybe it takes you five minutes,” she says. Hers is keeping a rubber mouse mask rolled up in her purse at all times. When she encounters an interesting setting, she takes a self-portrait as The Traveling Mouse and uploads it to Instagram. This small creative exercise has become a full project in its own right, with The Traveling Mouse making an appearance in nearly every locale she travels to.
But creativity doesn’t only have to come from experiences with your camera. Rosen suggests breaking from your routine once a week, whether that means taking a knot-tying class, reading up on a piece of history or speaking with a total stranger—“anything that adds an unexpected joy or nourishment to your soul.”
Most importantly, always work in a way that feels true to you, as it’s your practice that you’re building. That includes what you take away from her book. In the intro, Rosen writes: “Some advice will resonate and some will not. Embrace what works for you and leave the rest.” That’s a good lesson for beyond your artistic practice, too.
This article has been excerpted from “Project X: Making a Guide for the Modern Photographer” (PDNEdu, Fall 2017). Read the full article in the digital edition.