Personal Vision in Photography – video excerpt from The Genius of Photography

I have been reviewing portfolios as part of photomonth in London this weekend. One of the challenges for many aspiring professional photographers, whether they are hoping to move in the world of art photography or documentary is that, for the most part, they are still working on creating their own photographic signature. In terms of commerce, this is an important facet influencing the success of the work. Though this drive for originality can also be problematic, but that’s another discussion.

For now, I came upon this quote by the artist Chuck Close in a clip from the first episode of The Genius of Photography (BBC1), which is currently being repeated. Close sums up both the dilemma and strength of photography, saying:

“It’s the easiest medium in which to be competent. But, it’s the hardest medium in which to have personal vision that is readily identifiable.”

Halfway through this clip (after about five mins) he asks a rhetorical question relating to how one can actually achieve this, adding that it is a very difficult and complicated process. However, “When someone really ends up nailing down a particular kind of vision, to such an extent that they own that vision, you know that they’ve really done something.”

The whole clip is 10mins long. It starts off showing a 19th century portrait photography studio, with the inevitable emphasis on looking at the work of the better-known male portrait photographers of the time, such as Nadar (1820-1910). Thinking about photography at the turn of the century, it is worth remembering at this point, some of the women portrait photographers who set up commercial studios around the turn of the century. In 1896, following on from the success of Alice Hughes,(1857-1939), Lallie Charles (1869-1919) opened her first studio and, with her sister Rita, became the “most commercially successful women portraitists of the first decade of the 1900s”.


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