While in Antoine D’Agata’s workshop in Paris I was referred to as a young, contemporary American photographer. This label didn’t make sense to me. With further critiques and the ensuing physical and psychological distance from the world of photography I’m accustomed to in America, I began to see my work in a new light. There came a point when I felt a significant lack of authenticity in my images and those of my American peers. Namely, a large amount of distance between the life we live and the life we portray in our photos. I saw a beautification and perfection I didn’t notice before. A pop and cleanliness that reminded me how Capitalism and advertising has worked its way into the subconscious perception of Americans. I thought, maybe we are so desensitized by imagery we embrace artifice without realizing it? It was a strange feeling to see my images shape-shift in front me, like watching the eyes of a loved one go from blue to black.
Sitting in that classroom in Paris I was taken aback at how occupied all of us have become with staying on top of editor’s lists, photo blogs, social media, gallery shows and the such. It seems a lot of us are either too distracted or too lost to have the energy to sit down and genuinely use photography as a personal tool. What happened to making images that we would choose to make regardless of anybody or anything else? I was reminded of what I’ve always known: I don’t care about the hype or the money and I really don’t care about the business model. Dreams for sale are not dreams.
And I understand we have to walk a fine line. We have to keep taking other people’s pictures in order to pay the bills and earn the time to do personal work. And this is where it becomes so easy to lose touch with who we are and what really matters. We often think that if we work hard enough on personal projects it will eventually lead to and fuse with paid work. But I would ask, what kind of personal work is the kind you make under those conditions? And I would argue that if you work hard taking other people’s pictures long enough, you’re likely to keep taking their photos without even realizing it (isn’t Beauty empty without truth?).
When I’m at the end of my life and thinking about what I’ve given back, the last thing I’m going to care about is the magazines I shot for, the museum I was in, or the recognition I received. The only thing that will matter is how honest I was, how fully I lived my life, and whether I made the kind of photographs that were deeply mandatory.
I can see now that, among other things, I am much too aware of the photo industry and other photographers to make sustained, reflective and authentic work. I am easily distracted and it shows. One of my biggest take-aways from my experience in Paris was the reaffirmation of the fact that in order to touch bottom, you need to disconnect from the noise.
For now, the only thing that matters is that I close the gap between the life I live and the photographs I make.
“The only photographs that truly exist are the ”innocent” images. We find them in the family photo albums or in the police archives. Beyond serving as a simple documentation of reality or of a certain aesthetic sense, they attest to the role of the photographer, of his implication, of the authenticity of his position in that moment. The compositions of light, narrative, are no longer, for me, fundamental problems but superfluous lies. What interests me today in an image? The perspective that has justified the act of photography, the interference of the experience, of the ongoing scene, the texture, the material, the meaning of the self-portrait, of the individual, the incoherence of the unfolding sequence, the maniacal reconstruction of the random experience – the photographs, like words, are meaningless when isolated…” -Antoine D’Agata
This entry was written by Americans, Personal, Travels, Writing and tagged Antoine D'Agata, Creative Life, Leica M9, Magnum, Personal Photography. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post., posted on July 23, 2011 at 1:42 pm, filed under