Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Thoughts on Audience

(Please click on the thumbnail to view the larger version)

We certainly don't get this sort of light show every evening, but we get our share. Still, each one fills me with awe and gratitude.

Meanwhile when I am not gawking at sunsets or sunrises, admiring swooping hawks, or laughing at ground squirrels (so long as they aren't eating my geraniums!), I digest and adjust. Along with settling in physically, I am still very much in a gathering mode—reading, looking, finally taking a few more pictures, and processing more ideas than photos. For one thing, I am chewing on a number of topics that have been much discussed recently by the bloggers that I follow. For example, several whose thinking has long inspired me are talking lately about audience—a topic that has long been fascinating for me.

From the time that I first picked up The Husband's new then, but now defunct Canon A70, I was clear about the attraction of photography. I had no intention of beginning, so late in life, a new career, nor did I imagine that I would burst on the art scene and create a sensation. Primarily making images was a tool for dealing with some old hurts and losses that had barely faded with time. I had no idea how effective making images would be in that healing role, much less what lay ahead on my journey. Ultimately, my still budding relationship with a small parade of cameras has begun to play an ever-increasing part in answering questions about still another me and who that is.

If I begin to fret about whether others will find meaning in my photographs or whether they will approve, I am almost instantly paralyzed. This is an exact parallel to acting (I am convinced that it holds true for any creative endeavor). Indeed, it holds true in the everyday business of relating to other human beings. We all know people who are so busy trying to appear confident, smart, and witty that whoever they may actually be is smothered by the phoniness and the desperate need to be admired. They are so busy trying to please their audience they can't simply be.

It was a struggle with most actors I taught to convince them that during execution it was only by letting go of the need to please that could they could be freed to thrill, delight, and entertain their audience. When we are consumed by the need for approval, that becomes the intention and the focus. Then, there is nothing to be said other than, "Look at me, I desperately want to please. Like me; please, please like me." While any artist must hone the basics of craft, inspiration and creativity do not succumb to commands and needs. Creativity flourishes only when we risk yawns of disinterest, even outright rejection.

Of course, I am keen to improve my skills, so I may make images that better capture what I saw. After all, as so many others have already pointed out, I may end up with an audience of one: me. Since that is the only audience I can be certain will "show up for the show", its the audience I had best connect with.

By the way, I don't see that my claiming I aim first and foremost to be clear in communicating what I saw and doing so in a way that delights me, negates in any way the satisfaction that comes in pleasing others along the way. I know some want to make this an either/or situation. In other words, you are dishonest if you claim to create for yourself, while also making your work public and taking enjoyment from knowing that others take pleasure in it as well. I don't see the conflict. For me, it is a simple fact and quite logical that I take the photos first for me. If I am not happy with them, I have failed in my intention. When the result pleases me, I feel the effort was well spent. Yet, there is an eager embrace of a further bonus, when the work connects with another person. It isn't a required validation, but more of a buzz that comes from having sent out a signal and then getting back a signal from a kindred spirit. It's a little like that satisfaction that comes from "Did you see that?!" "Yes, I saw it too. Wow."


  1. AH! The ever elusive audience and more importantly when the audience is ourselves, how to we pander to the inner critic.

    For my own desires the discovery part in photography, the exploring of the world around us, is a big driving force. Because we see ourselves as photographers, there is a vision that allows us to see the world differently and with lick we can share this with others.

    The world and our life styles and the constant connection to media, be it tv, papers, internet and just plain emails has in some ways caused us to be and in someway now always needing it, with the constant bombardment of information.

    The process of capturing images allows us to freeze moments in time, they at least with some of our images cause us to reflect and ponder as we look at these frozen time moments.

    That is the joy I get with photography, to be able to remove myself from the treadmill and look and enjoy the many nuisances of nature and life.

    I suspect that were you live now there should be a lots of time to enjoy it all.

    For fun, when there is not the excitement to go out to take another picture, try creating a slideshow, with or without a theme and set it to music or a poem. Create it for pure visual fun or to tell a story. You may find that this will open up new opportunities to pursue and you may find that from a few of those images that you now have a new passion to explore an aspect of life.

    Niels Henriksen

  2. Niels - You always have the most fascinating ideas for projects. (Furthermore, your posts at your blog are excellent demonstrations of your ideas in practice.) What great suggestions. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  3. I can certainly relate to what you wrote about here Anita. I won't deny audience can be a fairly powerful influence. I know many artists like to tout 'going your own way' - and certainly that is a good objective. But sometimes we have to ask ourselves is our work getting too introspective and personal for ANYONE to relate to it? OK, this may not matter at all if anyone relates to it, only how you feel and all that jazz. But I think deep down artists want to share their work and have at least someone 'get it.'

  4. Mark - Thanks so much for dropping in to add to the conversation. I always look forward to your enlightening observations on any topic. (Almost as much as I look forward to your stunning images.

    Oh, I certainly meant to emphasize just how delicious it is to discover that what I have offered connects with someone else. That is, indeed, a bonus to be savored. I think to deny that is foolish. Again, if we weren't interested in connecting with others, we wouldn't make any work public.

    On the other hand, if I chase that bonus of outside recognition first and foremost, I think it is bound to elude me. Furthermore, while I chase the comfort of approval, I lose time that could be spent working my way through an invaluable, but long, tedious process of discovery. I may need to work my way through a bumpy patch and take my lumps to get to the next level of discovery. Chasing approval can take the place of experimentaion, and that is a shame.

    This business of balancing the weight we place on outside approval with the commitment to our own truth is a high wire act. If we don't risk falling, it isn't worth an ounce of effort.

    This is a big and complex topic, isn't it?

  5. A very nice, thoughtful post Anita. I hope you don't mind that I posted a link to it from my blog.


  6. Amy - I am delighted to hear from you. I have been so overwhelmed that I haven't really kept up with all my blogger friends, and your comment reminded me to check in on Amy, the Energizer Bunny. (I hope you know that is my affectionate term for you, since I think of you filled with all the possible vigor and energy of your youth. I "see" you whirring around leaving a cloud of dust behind you as you delight, produce, create, and discover the world around you.)

    On the other hand, my heart went out to you as I read about your sterile cubicle and your determination to bring something of your spirit to the blank space. The digital photo frame seems to be the ideal solution. I know you will be happier (and more productive) with that addition.

    What you have done with your photography in such a blink of the eye, time-wise, is a reflection of your creativity and resourcefulness. I like the photo with your post on audience. While "eyes are the windows of the soul", sometimes not being able to see the subject's eyes pulls me further into the image. It allows me to imagine that she may not even know that I am watching her and that I am observing an unguarded moment. The simple demeanor, the expressive mouth, along with the contrasty, intense backlighting all make the image compelling for me. I hope you will continue to explore your world through photography.

    And, thank you for linking to my post. I am honored.

  7. Anita, I am the one who is honored by your deep analysis of my photograph. By far, this is the most anyone has ever written about any of my work – and your thoughts are more wonderful than the picture itself! Thank you! You rock!

    I had other reasons to grin... you said

    I think of you filled with all the possible vigor and energy of your youth.

    Which is sweet, but I don’t think I qualify as young anymore. I’ve got more than five decades behind me. But the comment made me smile.

    I "see" you whirring around leaving a cloud of dust behind you as you delight, produce, create, and discover the world around you.

    And the dust would be because I’ve totally neglected my housekeeping. :D

    But, yes, I’ll keep chasing after better photographs. And you will, too, I hope! We've got another SoFoBoMo to train for! :D

  8. Amy - Now, I am the one grinning at the joke on me—and at the joyful reminder that a young spirit is what really counts. Besides since I still have quite a few years on you, I shall continue to think of you as a youngster.

    I'm certain that, on a non-verbal level, you knew all those things about your photograph and that's what motivated you to snap the shutter. Certainly my words come only in response to your image, making them a pale reflection. Please, please keep chasing—or allowing—those better and better images.

    By the way, I know that particular cloud of dust well. It's getting a bit thick here.

    SoFoBoMo II. The thought fills me with anticipation, restlessness, and pluperfect horror. Bring it on.

  9. Good intentions: I've been meaning to post a comment since the first day that you posted this but ... :-)

    I think that we can be our own biggest fan and still appeal to others. When we seek to appeal solely to the audience, I think that we can get lost for a time.

    I know that it has happened to me. I try to think of what type of picture will elicit the biggest reaction and usually, I fall dead on my face. The one that gets the biggest reaction is the heartfelt one. The one that I loved, but thought was plain. I think that intuitively, we can see through our own subterfuge.

    I, too, love accolades. I cannot say with any modicum of honesty that I don't like attention. I do! But, what I like even more, is to take pictures that please me!

  10. Paul - So well said, as always. Sometimes I wonder if people think that trying to please ourselves is taking the easy way out. For many of us, it's an excruciating path.

  11. Somehow, we've been taught to try to please others and that pleasing ourselves is somehow selfish. We can only maintain that facade for so long before it all comes tumbling down.


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