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The Photographer’s Lexicon

I like the way this is explained, but I can’t remember who explained it in these words – a photograph is the sum of all the movies you ever watched, all the music you ever enjoyed, every photograph you ever saw, all the books you ever read and the loves you’ve won and lost. A photograph is the sum of all that preceded it’s creation from the mind of the photographer.

That’s pretty close to how I remember it being said. And, wow, that’s a profound explanation for what I’d describe as a ‘real’ photograph of any merit. Any creative process passes through the filter of a human mind that sets the situation and chooses the subject. Even snapshots are a result of that filtration of a lifetime of experiences.

But knowing about that mental filter is not enough of an explanation if you want to know the secret of making good (or great) photographs.

The photographer needs to make photographs. Over and over and over. The photographer does this to develop a lexicon, a vocabulary. Because, after all, how do you communicate ideas without some form of refined communication? Anybody can make a photograph. Of a wall, or a chair or a rock or a bird-flower-car-factory. Making photographs is simple. Making really good photographs comes from a lot more hard work. Practice.

A big part of that lexicon comes from understanding what makes a good photograph; the history of good photographs; the ideas that have been worked and reworked over the last Century and a half by other photographers upon whose shoulders you stand.

I’ve had a hiatus from making photographs for a while and it’s because I wasn’t shooting the type of photograph that expressed what I wanted to say in them. My lexicon also fell short of being able to explain, even to myself, the complexities of these ideas as a series of coherent pictures. In short, if you lack the words (the lexicon), you stumble like the new author who sits down to write a novel only to realise that describing a mundane kitchen isn’t that simple a task.

I do love all my cameras. But they’re only tools. Loud speakers. Interpreters of my thoughts and ideas. The means by which a photograph is mechanically called into existence. What is more important than tools is that vocabulary. And practice. So I’d better get off my arse again and start making pictures.

Self portrait with a Zenza Bronica ETRS medium format film camera

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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