Subject is All or Photography Made Simple!

Why do so many people constantly try to make photography as complicated as possible? Let me rephrase that, why do so many people involved with photography try to make it seem so complex? Is there an agenda at play here? I’ll leave you to answer that question, whilst I address the question of photography’s base simplicity. That is that without subject matter there is no photography. You need something, somewhere or someone to photograph to make photographs. Simple.

I often ask young photographers this question, “What is most important for a food photographer to be passionate about photography or food?” you could just as easily ask “What is most important for a football photographer to be passionate about photography or football?”or perhaps “What is most important for an architectural photographer to be passionate about photography or architecture?” or maybe “What is most important for a fashion photographer to be passionate about photography or fashion?” The correct answer is always the subject. That does not mean that the photography is not important, it is just a realistic acceptance that photography is the means by which we document our passions and interests, and it is those passions and interests that give us our subject matter.

The stories we tell are also based upon our passions and interests, they are also our subject matter.

You can get hung up on all matter of technical, theoretical, conceptual or existential elements of making photographs, but without subject matter none of this is of any relevance.

Photography really is that simple, catching light in a box with a purpose.

It is this simplicity that allows every owner of a smartphone to create vast archives on their devices documenting what is important to them. However, despite this concentrated engagement with photography, few would describe themselves as photographers. They are photographers, but their concept of what constitutes the description is based on a perceived complexity that is inaccurate. They are confusing the idea of being a photographer with the expectation of a professional photographer.

This could be an understanding perpetrated by photographers keen to maintain a sense of mystery based on complexity, I don’t know, maybe you do!

Photography is as simple as you want it to be. The simpler it is explained the more democratic it is. The more democratic, the greater the engagement and the more likelihood of a sophisticated understanding of the medium evolving. This is not a dumbing down of the medium, but an opening up of the possibilities it offers. It’s not hard to make things complicated, but it is an art to identify simplicity.

As the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde stated “Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.” I’m with Oscar on this one.

Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.

© Grant Scott 2022

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