Recently, I was lucky enough to have a portfolio review with a photography agent. It was only my second review ever and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect — so when four agents from the one agency popped up in the Zoom meeting, I was a little intimidated. They were lovely and warm and welcoming though. I just wanted to knit them a hat.
I digress — this article isn’t a love letter to them. What I took away from meeting them was very much this idea of having a voice that is yours.
These images were taken years apart and are from very different projects. Some are studio portraits while one was taken on location; others are still life or abstract shapes.
I hope they illustrate my point though that they are all uniquely mine. They carry an essence of who I am as an artist: it’s very much how I view the world around me.
Clean, simple, but with just that little hint of movement. I tend to call this a “breath” (because I quite literally get my subjects to do breathing exercises before I take the shot). These are things that I have always done when making portraits and they are an intuitive part of my work. I don’t mind sharing this with you because you could do everything I do, verbatim, and you still wouldn’t arrive at the images I make. They’d be a copy: you channeling me, as opposed to you channeling you.
I recently wrote a brief article about praxis. My point with that article, as well as this one, is that you have to get to a point where you are shooting intuitively. Where the image is an extrinsic representation of who you are intrinsically. A part of you. But you can’t really do that unless you’ve made a lot of images (and thought about what you’ve done).
Which brings us to the point of this article, which is to help you find out what is it that makes you special? What is it that makes you uniquely you? In my experience, a big part of that is through writing: to quite literally put into words what it is you are trying to show.
There really isn’t a trick or some get-there-quick formula to finding your style. You won’t find it in a day or even a few months. All you can do is to keep creating images and projects and approach them in a way that is yours. Something that happens all too often, but is probably not that great for you, is to find a photographer you like and copy their work.
Pomodoro is named after an old-timey egg timer. The word itself is Italian for tomato (which makes sense since egg timers used to be red—very much like a tomato). But you don’t need an actual egg timer—you can use your phone timer or a stopwatch as well.
It’s important that you write with a pen and paper (or pencil and paper—just avoid typing!) You’ll also need a timer (although the one on your cell phone should work just as well!)
There’s probably a bunch of different ways to do this but this is how I approach it.
- Find a quiet and comfortable spot; ideally a desk in a well lit location with a comfortable chair.
- Set your timer for five minutes. In these five minutes, begin to write and do not stop until the timer is up. It can be total dribble; it doesn’t matter just let the words flow. I can’t stress this enough, you’re meant to keep writing literally whatever comes into your head. There are no bad ideas. It’s probably a good idea to set a target question like “Who are my favorite photographers? What do I like about their work?” or “What type of images do I want to make?” or “What are my values? What do I believe in?”
- When the timer is up, take a short 5-minute break. Grab a cup of coffee. Have a short walk around the room. Maybe do a couple of star-jumps or something.
- Set another timer and write again—and take another break after you’ve written.
- Once you’ve written 3 or 4 time, then you put that paper away and go about your day.
- Take a few days and then come back to what you wrote to pick out the parts you resonate with.
For me, I’m lucky if I get two good sentences out of this. What you write using pomodoro will be terrible. The idea for this technique isn’t to write well; but to generate ideas which you can then catalyze for more thoughtful writing.
As visual people writing is often “too hard.” “I’m not a writer.” This is a great way to overcome that.
There really isn’t a pressure to write well. It’s essentially a stream of consciousness. We use different parts of our brain to make things than to critique what we’ve made. With photographs I try not to edit or retouch images the same day I make the images. Same thing with writing. I don’t edit the same day I’ve written something.