My wife speaks four languages fluently and has a degree of competency in several others. I only speak one of those four languages fluently so that makes it our de facto channel of communication. But when we get together with her friends or family, there is often a great deal that is said in languages that I don’t understand and therefore I am unable to contribute to or even comment on the conversation.
Photography is often described as a universal language and I believe that this is true, up to a point. It is certainly easier to communicate the feeling of a smile to a diverse group of people through an image than to describe it even in the most widely spoken language. But the universality of photography is not absolute. As in conventional language, photography can be divided into “language” groups (e.g. street, sport, landscape, nature, etc.); and those language groups can be further divided into separate and mutually unintelligible languages; which can be divided still further into dialects and again into regional accents. If you speak only one photographic language, it is almost certain that all of your photograper contacts also speak that language and will understand the images you create. But if your photography embraces different themes and styles, there are sure to be some among your audience who are left baffled as to what you are trying to convey, simply because they do not understand the vernacular of that particular photographic “language” or have no interest in engaging with it.
In The curse of the eclectic, I tried to say that, for me at least, I don’t feel that I have a choice between being a single-themed photographer and being an eclectic. I take whatever catches my eye and I try as far as possible to match the style to the subject; so my Photostream on Flickr looks like a patchwork quilt; something that has been cobbled together out of whatever happened to be lying around. And to be perfectly honest, that’s exactly what it is. But one person who commented encouraged me not to be so negative about it; and I’m going to take that advice on board and finish this discussion on a positive note. But first I have to establish the context.
When I captured The Dolphins of La Casa Milà I was already in a very happy frame of mind. I was enjoying a wonderful day with my son exploring Barcelona, and I was surrounded at that moment by the inspirational art of Antoni Gaudi. I could talk at length about the psychology of taking a photograph and how that influences one’s expectations of how others will respond to it; but I will save that for another essay. Let it suffice to say that I had hoped to communicate to others what I was feeling at that moment and while some of my contacts clearly DID respond in the way I’d hoped they would, many others didn’t respond at all. That lead me to write the essay and to introduce it with the image I called Crushed! But this is precisely where being an “eclectic” photographer pays dividends.
Crushed! was also taken in Barcelona, a few days after I took the Dolphins. My son was with me on that occasion too and I was just as happy as I had been when I visited La Casa Milà. As we walked along the narrow street alongside the church of Santa Maria del Mar and I saw that wall (of the church) and the man walking in the distance, I became as excited about the photographic possibilities as I was when I saw the Dolphins. I took the shot and put it in my library and we continued our explorations of La Ribeira. At that time, I did not know that I would upload the Dolphins to Flickr; I didn’t know the reaction I would get to it, nor how I would feel about that reaction; and of course, I had no plans at that time to write The curse of the eclectic and be in need of an image to attach it to that would attract attention and convey a sense of what I was feeling (at that time in the future). But being the eclectic that I am, taking shots at random, just because they catch my eye, it wasn’t a surprise to me to find that I already had the shot I needed to accompany the essay.
So, I guess my contact was right; being an eclectic isn’t all that bad, really. I just have to accept that this is who I am; and if I upload images from time to time that baffle some people, leaving them wondering “what was he thinking, taking that?” then I just have to be grateful for the cohort of my contacts who do understand and who do appreciate what I was thinking.
BTW: I needed a picture of a smile to introduce this essay and what do you know, I already had one. Also taken in Barcelona, on the same day as the Dolphins, just shortly after, as my son and I walked down the Passeig de Gracia in search of a café.