One of the greatest exercises I learned in a college photography class was to shoot close to home. The professor was constantly drilling into our heads to simplify, simplify, simplify. This was a photographer who insisted on carrying around one camera and one lens (no zooms).
After spring break, we all returned to class and in typical fashion started pinning our latest assignments up on the board for critique. This was a documentary photography class, with an emphasis on street photography and we all shot black and white film back then. Unlike most of the previous shooting assignments over the long the winter months over the many bleak and frozen Chicago neighborhoods we lived, this week was a little different.
Suddenly, the brightly lit walls of the room were filled with exotic and contrasty photographs from the beaches of the Caribbean, a resort in Mexico, the deserts of Arizona, Venice Beach, CA, and most unusual of all – the crowded bustling streets of Bangladesh, India! (I had traveled to New Orleans to visit family, but I was just as guilty).
The photography instructor walked quickly around the room in complete silence, looking at each slick 8x10 black and white print for about half a second. Everyone could sense that he was not happy with the photographs.
Then the professor said,
"I'm not going to grade any of these prints or count this work for the assignment I gave out before the break."
"The most interesting photography is not always made in far away exotic places."
“Tomorrow, grab your camera and go for a walk around the block and really look closely at the world around you. Take time to stop and observe. Make your street the most important place to be on Earth at that moment.”
He wanted to see what we could do with what we had in front of us. To fly off to some exotic far away destination and get great photographs was easy as far as my photography instructor was concerned. The more difficult and challenging task sits right outside our front door.
Recently, I created a collaborative web site with this exercise in mind.
What can you do with just your camera and your legs? Is it possible to take something we take so much for granted (our street, our neighborhood) and make it into something extraordinary? And, I believe this philosophy may be applied to any photographic discipline whether amateur or professional:
Does a great wedding photograph require an exotic or expensive location?
Is it possible for a food photographer to shoot a great magazine cover with just a few cheap local fresh vegetables?
Can a beautiful portrait be made of an ordinary looking person? (without Photoshop)