Photography is just another medium for expression like painting, music, writing or dance. Mastery of the craft enables lucid exploration and communication of your thoughts and feelings.
Photography forces you to look at the world objectively. Colour and form matter most. Preconceptions often cloud clear perception of reality and will naturally fade.
The practices of photography will eventually become second-nature and even without your camera, your heightened connection with the world will persist.
When you allow yourself to notice things as they are, you will also start to notice your mind and body’s reaction to them. Emotions impact physiologically as much as they are mentally felt.
A powerful photograph aims to stimulate thought or invoke emotions. There are several ways to achieve this and no clear delineation possible between them.
A fear of the dark is instinctual in so far as it is a fear of the unknown. What we can’t see can still harm us. This is still felt, and can be a useful tool.
Predominately black photographs have a very different ‘feel’ to them compared to bright white photographs; this is regardless of subject matter. We can control meaning with our choice of exposure.
Likewise, colour psychology physically affects us. These physiological reactions are thereafter rationalised with a matching feeling; we see a lady in a red dress, the colour affects us and we assume she is passionate. The cultural stereotypes arise from these reactions. Blue lowers the heart-rate so it is seen as a calm colour.
Therefore we already have a lot of control to express emotions and feelings by using our exposure and white balance creatively, regardless of our scene or subject. The camera is not an objective tool.
There are two main types of art;
1 Figurative: Depicting figures such as people, animals of landscapes. These may be incredibly realistic like Vermeer’s portraits, or more Impressionist like Matisse’ landscapes.
2 Abstract: In which colour, line and form carry meaning, apparently apart from a connection with identifiable ‘things’. Rothko’s multiforms and Miró’s later work are good examples.
Before photography, the majority of Western art was figurative. With increased influence from the abstract art-forms of other cultures and the apparent irrelevance of the paintbrush for accurate representation compared to a camera’s ability to preserve, art changed.
Now, art is a mix of both mimesis and abstraction. Photographer have almost exclusively been concerned with the former – capturing the world around them – but this is limiting.
One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are – Minor White
Certainly it is true that a precisely captured photograph of a majestic scene is powerful by itself. It is enough to be, or rather to put yourself, in the right place at the right time; f8 and be there.
It is preferable to actively seek out to express your ideas and emotions by photographing those things that move your, incorporating symbols and metaphor to do so. Photographs can be parables; and are widely used in propaganda for their didactic ability.
And then it is as well to have the image in the mind before the camera; to visualise the finished photographs and set off to achieve it, using special techniques if necessary.
But equally valid is to shrug off the apparent requirement to photography anything identifiable at all. It is enough that your photographs move people (or yourself).
This means that your photographs need not be ‘of’ anything. They can be totally abstract and rely upon a universal visual language to impart their meaning.
Our instinctual reaction to the visual ‘language’ means that you can create photographs that appear to be about one thing, and actually affect the viewer emotionally in different ways.
So there are several ways to express our ideas and emotions in Holistic Photography. You needn’t be exclusive to just one; the important aspect is creating art that speaks to you or moves you.
This authenticity ensures that your art is powerfully felt; and if it affects others, great. But bear in mind that Van Gogh died before his work was appreciated; the act of personal creation is enough, public recognition is a bonus.
What we see is influenced by what we believe, and what we are looking for. We see what we want to see; and we see only what we can.
In psychology, this is explained by Cognitive Bias, Inattentional Blindness and the Reticular Activating System. Watch this rather memorable study with a gorilla HERE.
Good news; your life experience and breadth of ideas will help you a lot with Holistic Photography. Symbols and ideas subconsciously affect what you find aesthetically interesting; and therefore what you choose to photograph.
In the same way that you can make dramatic improvements to your ‘eye’ for composition and colour by looking at a lot of great visual art, depth in photography can be improved by ideas.
Philosophy, literally the love of knowledge, is a goldmine for evocative ideas. Many magnificent artists have found their whole style changed utterly by access to new concepts.
But philosophy books, as anyone who’s slogged through Hegel knows, can be quite dense; and you’re busy. Therefore while it is preferable to read the original texts, we have summarised some key ideas.