Many of us engage in personal projects in the winter months. I spent my sub-zero winter days cocooned in my house engaged in a slew of internal dialogue, reflecting on why I shoot and what I shoot. I did this through a couple of fantastic classes (Storymaking with Meredith Novario and Find, Define, and Refine Your Style with Sarah Lalone), as well as lots of self-reflection, all while pouring through my archives in Lightroom. Now, after 4 months of revising my thinking regarding my own work, it’s spring and I feel ready to emerge, totally refreshed and with new vision.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several overarching themes in my photography and that, especially in my personal work, I am very drawn to shooting scenes of my children engaging in that which my husband and I value most. Like any other parent I have several core values that stem from my life experiences. I want our children to be kind, loving, hardworking, and productive members of society. But one of the main values that I intentionally spend time instilling everyday is that of curiosity. I hope that no matter what line of work our children enter, they will be on fire with passion and interest for the world around them. Whether they are entrepreneurs, scientists, business people, mechanics, artists… it doesn’t matter, because when the spark for life-long learning is nurtured, the habit of noticing what’s around you and caring about it in a way that makes a real difference, becomes ingrained. Besides the fact that I believe curious people will lead meaningful, passionate lives, I sincerely believe that curious people are inherently interested in the lives and plight of others. Curious people ask questions, seek answers, and above all – listen. And heaven knows this world needs more listeners. In short, being passionately curious is akin to being in love with the world and the people in it.
Because I believe these things, I am drawn to shoot it. Whether I am encouraging discovery or my children are simply being naturally curious as all children are, when I see it, I click. I can’t help myself.
As I comb through my images, I find shot after shot that shows my children experiencing the senses of curiosity and wonder. Not only that, but I also come across a great many shots that show my own curiosity. For example, I’ll find a series of my kids doing something, and right in the middle of the story, there will be an image of the steam from my coffee cup or an interesting shadow.
It’s these images that bring it all together for me. If something is a pattern in your work, it will likely weave itself through your life. In my case, I can find examples of the curiosity theme in all parts of my photography: client (a break in the action and a child finds a ladybug), personal (my own children engaged in learning and discovery), and personal art (a heart-shaped leaf, a crack in the sidewalk). But, I can also find it in my life outside of photography and before photography (my prior life as a teacher, my love of reading).
If you’re interested in mining your own images for themes, you must look not only at your work but at your life. What do you value? What makes you itch to pick up your camera? And for the documentary photographer, what are the stories that speak to you most strongly? Are they stories of contrast? Of connection? Of emotion? Of quietness? Of chaos? Of the mundane?
At first, this kind of self-introspection will be hard. I absolutely had no idea there were themes in my work or that I had certain triggers for when I press the shutter. It was only after much sharing of my work with like-minded individuals and quiet thinking time that the pieces started to come together for me. The theme of curiosity is only one out of many that manifest itself in my photography, and understanding that theme does not go far enough to actually describe my artistic style. But it certainly is one contributing piece.
Recognizing your own shooting impulses can strengthen your vision and brand, but more importantly, it can actually give you better insight into your own life. It can help you know your own heart more deeply and therefore, give you insight into your life’s past, present, and future paths. Isn’t that what Art is all about?
Guest Post images and writing from Andrea Moffatt
I highly encourage you to follow this talented photographer, Andrea Moffatt. You can find her here: