Today we welcome one of our very own Guild members, David duChemin, to talk about his new book Photographically Speaking: a deeper look at creating better images. Not only does this interview whet our appetite for the soon-to-be-released book and offer us a sneak peak at its message, it makes important connections between visual language and Visual Peacemaking. I'v read David's books. To put it honestly and plainly: it is well worth the time and energy investment every single time! So join me and others in anticipating good things.
If you're not familiar with David duChemin, he is a Vancouver-based world and humanitarian photographer, author and international workshop leader. He has built a friendly community of photographers around his blog, books, and ebooks. To learn more visit his profile here and certainly visit his beloved blog at pixelatedimage.com.
Today we're bringing you 7 compelling answers to questions many of us would like to ask David. Next week David will join us again to model "speaking photographically" by unpacking one his IGVP Portfolio images. Without further ado...
1 Briefly, what's the core message of your newest book Photographically Speaking? And what differentiates it from your other books?
Photographically Speaking is about two things - first, it is about the words and grammar of the visual language. In other words, what are our photographs capable of saying, or implying, given the elements and decisions at our disposal. Secondly, it's about learning to speak about photographs in order that we become more aware ourselves of the elements and decisions (the words and grammar of the visual language) at our disposal and thereby make more intentional photographs, and hopefully photographs that more clearly and intentionally communicate our stories.
2 How can a better understanding of photographic language improve our photography?
That's a little like asking how a better understanding of English can improve our writing, or a better grasp of music improve the way we play jazz flute, is it not? We speak a visual language with our photographs - people will read them as they read a book, with the assumption that we knew what we were doing and made the photographs intentionally. The better we grasp and are aware of the language the closer we come to expressing ourselves with clarity and nuance and power.
Photo: David duChemin
3 What's the relation between vision and expression and the success of an image? Where does photographic aesthetics play into this?
At the beginning of the book I sidestep the issue of "what makes a good photograph." I think that's an argument for art critics and people who like to argue about how many angels you can fit on the head of a pin. Instead I talk about what makes a successful image and argue that that is a more important question. And then it's a question of what did you want that image to do? Is it purely expression as in the case of an abstract? Is it the creation of mood, or nostalgia? Is it the communication of key information or the invoking of compassion? No matter what your goal, the only way we have to do any of these is the aesthetic of the photograph. The medium really is the message in the sense that every choice we make change the look of the photograph and can therefore change the message.
4 How can speaking photographically help us as visual peacemakers fulfill our mission?
We're storytellers, and the more powerfully we can wield our words - in this case visually - the greater the chance we can tell the story we want to tell, and to do so as honestly as possible, knowing that people will read the image in a certain way. Whether we do this with words or cameras is not relevant - what matters is the intentional, careful use of language in order to communicate clearly. A line, a shadow, the photographer's POV, the moment chosen, the crop, all of these say something.
5 How can we as a visual peacemaking community express unified themes knowing we each have a unique visual voice?
I think we tell the stories we feel compelled to tell and in the way we feel best able to tell them. If we do so from a shared ethic or value, then the themes will, to some degree, unify themselves.
6 You're known for the mantra "Gear is good. Vision is better." But now that you're unpacking the term "expression", which do you think is more important… really… our photographic equipment or an understanding of photographic language?
The equipment is becoming much less relevant to me. I've seen stunning work, even work created in conflict zones, made with iPhones and compacts. Let's talk spoken language - what's more important - the thing you have to say and the power and pacing with which you deliver a speech (think MLK and the "I have a dream" speech.) or the microphone. The fanciest, most advanced microphone will only make the speech louder and clearer, both important things, but they are not the things that will change hearts and minds. What changes hearts and minds is vision and the ability to express and communicate that vision. And more often than not I'd argue we do that better with less gear, not more. Gear has a way of, well, getting in the way.
7 What were the "Rose & Thorn" elements in creating this 4th book of your seemingly limitless trilogy? ;p
The thorn was the fact that I had a near-fatal fall in Italy this April and that set me back a month in terms of writing and my plans for making photographs for the book. I broke multiple bones in both feet, cracked my pelvis, and did soft-tissue damage to my right hand. The two people that fell off that wall earlier this year both died, so I'm grateful to be alive. In light of that finishing a book seems lower on the priority list, never mind the challenge of writing lucidly while hopped up on morphine. The rose was the writing itself. The more you write the more you learn and I've come out of this book with an exponentially greater respect and understanding for the idea of visual language and the power of the photograph to both express and communicate.
Remember to stop by next week, or RSS subscribe. More coming...
Disclaimer: While IGVP strives for unity and clarity of vision, each blog author is responsible for his or her own words, links, and references. They do not necessarily represent the many voices and opinions of individuals within the visual peacemakers movement, the Guild, or the IGVP Founders.