Variation on a Theme: What I’m looking for in photography


General Photography

I keep coming back to the question what it actually is that I’m looking for in photography (and art), in part because people ask me - and usually, as the other day in a conversation with Anne-Celine Jaeger, I don’t have a good (which here means snappy and simple) answer. Well, until I figured it out: What I really love is transformative photography (in part I owe this insight to Chris Anderson, with whom I had an email discussion). Transformative photography is photography that changes you as a person, that asks questions (instead of answering them). You’re not the same person any longer after you’ve looked at it - and given the nature of this experience, it usually cannot be depleted (even though it might become weaker with time).

So this is the simple, short answer to the question what I’m looking for in photography. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I only look for such photography - I like the occasional visual tickle just like everybody else.

There is an interesting consequence, which in part explains some of the things I said on this blog. For example, when I’m talking about how I prefer the message over the medium (and not the other way around), that’s why. There is no transformative power in the medium itself (even though the visual impression created by some photographic processes - think daguerreotypes - can be stunning). Or when I complained about a lot of photojournalism I was complaining about photography that was confirming what everybody expects to see anyway (compare this similar criticism).

What might be most important about all of this is, I think, that looking for transformative work leaves me with an openness: I’m not looking to have what I like confirmed, but rather to discover something new (and that “discovering something new” must not be confused with the search for something new out of boredom or out of a desire to consume).

The experience of coming across a new body of transformative photography is exhilarating and indescribable.