When Does a Photograph Stop Being a Self Portrait?

 
“If every image is a reflection of who you are as a photographer, the question to ask is if you recognise who you see in that mirror.”–K Madhavan Pillai

“If every image is a reflection of who you are as a photographer, the question to ask is if you recognise who you see in that mirror.”–K Madhavan Pillai

I will never forget the quote by Ansel Adams—“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” There is a cyclical nature to how one views one’s own photography, though. Those who have had to endure continuous noise will find an unbelievable eloquence in snatches of silence in pictures. And when the silence turns unbearably loud, the softest of whispers are like calls to the devout across empty chasms. Look carefully enough, and the whispers become quiet conversations. Participate whole-heartedly, and the conversations end up as edgy, spirited discussions.

As a sense of the ideal creeps in, it transforms into powerful drama. At this point, no other image seems good enough. Beyond, there are the joyous crescendos, contrasts for the sake of contrast, and raucous cacophony from which emerges ‘true’ art. And, of course, artists thrive on their throes of angst, for all those who fail to understand. Eventually, silences are beautiful again.

Just as literacy is not poetry, and being vociferous is different from becoming a voice, the commonness of images as a language, nowadays, is exactly just that—a matter of speaking— because just about everybody makes pictures. Regardless of the millions and billions of frames exposed every single day, the fantastic thing about photography is that no two frames are ever identical. If every image is a reflection of who you are as a photographer, the question to ask is if you recognise who you see in that mirror. Does it carry your identity? Or is it faceless, and undifferentiated from the billions of others around?

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Edit note, K Madhavan Pillai, March 2016