By Christina VanGinkel
I was with a group of people the other day who were discussing the subject of taking a class to learn the basics of photography. It evolved into a discussion of what to do after you know the basics, but still need help with the concept of taking photographs that equal art in the truest sense. The group as a whole had no clear meeting of the minds when it came to this. Several people said that taking many photos was the only way to learn. A few others thought that unless you could garner the interest of a professional to take you under their wing, your chances of ever taking photographs beyond those suitable for a scrapbook or at the most, as a photographer who makes a living at a photo studio such as those found in discount chain stores nationwide, was nil to none. In addition, a few others thought that immersing yourself in all forms of art was the best way to bring their photographs up to a level of professional artist. There was also one person who stated that to become an artist was impossible, that you were either born with the artistic talent steeped into the depths of one's soul, or you would never further yourself beyond just someone who snapped photographs, period.
I somewhat agreed with all of them, except for the one who thought you had to be born an artist, or else. I am a firm believer in the art of learning, as long as the desire is there, and I also felt that the part of garnering the interest of a professional was more likely to come by taking a class by one who was willing to teach a workshop, then to gain the sole interest of a professional photographer. As to taking many photographs, that would be essential, but only during the immersion in all things art. By visiting museums, studying lighting, looking at endless landscapes and self-portraits, going to shows put on by artists you both admire and even those you may not, will you begin to find your own artist within. Some would disagree with me, I know, saying that by doing this you risk the chance of becoming a copycat of another artist, but I would disagree. By studying other artwork, photographic, painted, sculptural, and others, can one learn what to them art is.
Once you have an idea of what in the world, (be it people, animals, plants, or objects, or where, from city to rural, from mountains to a crowded shopping center, or from the plains of Africa, to a small town Minnesota,) it is that piques your interest and calls to your eye behind the shutter, will all those snapshots you are taking begin to meld from 'just another photograph' to something that some will label 'art'. In addition, in the end, only then will you know that unless you, the photographer, connects with the photograph, it will not matter to you what others call it.