Crafting Your Artist's Statement

Evening Glow, Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Photography can be considered a metaphor for life. It is full of ups and downs, challenges and rewards and rarely without a dull moment. I'm sure you'll agree with me when I say that with photography, just like in life, you never stop learning.

The Road Forward

I think that once we get to a particular level of technical competence (e.g., camera handling, exposure, focus, composition) we can hit a bit of a rut. Is this all there is?

To keep the ball rolling we can try to inject some more excitement into our photography by embarking on new projects, learning new techniques or buying more gear. But, ultimately, none of that matters if there's not a reason underpinning why we do what we do.

What, Why and How?

I'm convinced that, once we've gained a sense of technical competency, our photographs become less about what we're photographing (i.e., subject matter) and more about why we make the photos we do. The story we want to tell (e.g., growth), the message (e.g., forgiveness) we want to impart, the metaphor (e.g., broken heart) we want to suggest or the concept (e.g., transience) we want to explore becomes the reason why it is that we do what we do.

How we go about achieving these ends (e.g., the techniques, styles and approaches we apply) follows on from and is informed by why, far more than from what, we photograph. And that's as it should be.

An Ongoing and Evolving Process

To help make sense of all this it might be worthwhile crafting a short Artist's Statement exploring the main motivations, intentions and objectives that underpin your work. Now this is not written in stone, and it's completely up to you whether or not your share it with anyone. By it's very nature an Artist's Statement is organic and open to change. It should, therefore, be amended often.

The Nitty Gritty

I constructed mine, a bit at a time, by writing down a series of thoughts and notions. I didn't worry about spelling, grammar or even structure (e.g., paragraphs and sentences). I simply wrote down a series of dot points which I then re-arranged into an order that made sense.

The next thing was to take each point, one at a time, and turn them into sentences. Sentences that seemed to belong together began to form paragraphs. Before I knew it I had the basis of my Artist Statement.

Step Forward the Perfectionist

A little bit of structural finessing with headings, bullet points and the like will bring a sense of design to the piece and enhance the reading experience.

As this is a highly personal work you might want to avoid publishing it for a time. Instead come back to it, regularly, re-reading and amending it so that you're able to say as much as you like within a relatively small space. Economy of words and clarity of thought go together. And reader fatigue should always be considered.

Once you're finished be proud of what you've done. You may even want to matte and frame it and display it on a wall at home, close to where you sort and process your images. An Artist's Statement is ideal as part of a catalogue for an exhibition of your photographs or, as evidenced HERE, as a page on your website.

Putting Words to Work

But for your Artist's Statement to be of value it must both inform and underpin your work. Read it and think about it regularly. Do the words reflect who you are, as a person and as an artist? And, now that you've tapped into your creative self and allowed art to outline your path, are you staying on track and is it helping you navigate your way through life.

Can you see this is not about photography, the vehicle, it's about you and the way you choose to live your life. Digital photography is a means to an end. It allows us to do the following:

  • it acts as a magnifying glass allowing us to observe the world around us in amazing detail
  • as a visual recorder to document that world, not just as it appears to the general public, but as how we respond to it as visual artists
  • to bring attention to all manner of beauty, courage, disadvantage and injustice and, through greater awareness, help change the world, one photo at at time,  through the power of the internet

Just as our diet tells the world something about ourselves, as we currently exist, our photographs tell the world whom we are, at our very core. Let's be true to ourselves and, through our photography, recognize our value and begin to realize our true potential.

I hope you've enjoyed this post. You'll find my own Artist's Statement HERE. I do hope you'll consider creating one for yourself and that it will help you on your own journey, via photography, through life.

Please share widely and wildly.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru