Everything Is Subjective

The days of photo blogs that only share photos are quickly fading in light of encouragement to share not only photographs but thoughts, techniques, and stories. I love reading stories and getting ideas but I often find the balance is heavily weighted to the technical side of things. Browsing discussions about photography online often feels as though I am reading the same words, ideas, and trends being passed around like a messy game of telephone. When shooting philosophy is brought up I usually come across highly defensive articles staking claims about the purity of any one genera of photo making and why everyone else is wrong. It’s great to look at things from different points of view and I love digging deeper into ideas in efforts to discover ideas which are not so clearly laying there on the surface.

In light of this I like to humor deeper explorations of the art and how these ideas can relate to our lives and happiness. Art has such deep roots into human emotion I find it hard to ignore at times when approaching it. I do my best to approach writing about photography in a humble way because my goal is to encourage others to explore, because there is no right or wrong way to go about it. I don’t make any claims to be a scholar, I simply enjoy engaging others in conversation when ideas come to mind and observations I make are often footnotes I choose to share as I continue to explore the ever winding road of photography as art.

When considering any art work whether that be a photograph, sculpture, or painting, there is always a key moment when you pass your judgment on it’s effectiveness on you. Depending on your background you may see it in any manner of different ways. You may feel inexplicable emotion swarm up and touch your soul, or you could unconsciously turn your head ever so slightly, mouth half open and have a moment of honest confusion as you try to sort out in your mind if you enjoy what it is you are looking at. You may or may not simply glance at it in passing, make a snap decision and forget it ever existed.

There is no telling what may cross someones mind when they encounter any work of art, be it a photo of a flower or one of a dead animal, each persons reaction is as unique as their fingerprints. Most artists are aware of this and try to narrow their abilities to cater to a broad mind set while they create. I do this when shooting photos that I know will work well for a good desktop wallpaper image. Then there are those who throw any foresight to the wind and try their best to express what they feel in any means possible without any consideration for who may or may not enjoy it. While Both of these are viable approaches, there is a sweet spot between the two that explores experimental ideas while still managing to reach a wide audience.

This is what is wonderful about art, it’s impossible to truly define outside of the viewers imagination and each of us have a unique set of memories and experiences that separates our interpretation from everyone else’s. But why stop with art?

Widen our perspective a little and we quickly realize that everything is subjective. While many of our opinions align to form a broad appreciation of certain things within our various cultural divides, we all still hold the uncanny ability to see things in a light totally different from anyone else based on our own personal realities or perspectives. Our insight on life is trapped within ourselves and our willingness to combine past experiences with new ones define our current viewpoints of the world and everything within it.

Many of us seem to forget that we are in many ways, absolute, and we are all equally unique in the way we see the world. With this gift comes responsibility because we are not in fact alone. Some of us manage to coast through life forgetting that, while we may feel our point of view is the only truth in this world, there are reasons for the way other people think, what they believe, or what they find beautiful. It’s your responsibility to be understanding and tolerant of others around you. Otherwise, we would live in selfish chaos. We should embrace the idea that along with our personal subjective reality we are part of a much wider objective one that we all must share. The best we can manage to do in our lifetime is to get through it without letting the negative drag us down.

For every seemingly random act or coincidence, there is a reason for it which has its roots nestled deep into history. Some look to a trust in fate to connect the dots while others lean on chance but no matter how you look at it you can’t deny the purity of our own existence based on all that has existed up to now. In order for us to be truly happy we should be willing to accept both the good and the bad. We aught to be able to allow ourselves to embrace all of it and challenge ourselves to accept what may not immediately seem acceptable. At least enough so to be understanding and tolerant.

After considering things from a wider perspective, let’s bring this back to the point I intended to make when I set off writing this today. With photography we are able to do something pretty amazing. We are able to take our subjective point of view and turn it into something objective. At least in the sense that we are able to share our personal version of the world and transform it into something that can be shared objectively.

Theoretically light beams are already objective and absolute as they are a shared part of our collective reality but when the reflection of that light is captured on a frame of film we are able to cheat the fleeting objective nature of reality and turn it into a version of our own subjective reality.

I realize this is putting a pretty fine point on the idea of snapping photos but I enjoy letting my mind wander. By putting a theory behind the process I am able to treat photography not as a seemingly random pastime, but as something more significant. I certainly don’t go around thinking of a higher purpose every time I make a photograph but I do sometimes let this guide my mind to help look for a deeper emotional connection to what light I choose to collect.

Having this in mind try to guide your ability as a photographer to capture your life in a way that illuminates your point of view. If you live a boring life stuck at home or at work most of the time, try to capture the essence of those feelings in your compositions in ways that others can relate to. If you travel a lot and have the opportunity to see more of the world, make an attempt to look for patterns in life within different landscapes. No matter where you are or what you do, you have a perspective completely unique to anyone else’s. Knowing this, as photographers, we should do our best to exploit the recourses we have available to us.

I have been exploring this for years and I am just now starting to see connections between what I have been shooting in ways where I would feel comfortable piecing together a narrative. It’s exciting to explore and it all started with a few simple realizations. One other thing to consider is that it is possible to try too hard. I will sometimes force my hand while taking a photo in a way that ends up feeling too obvious. I discovered long ago that it’s important to maintain a casualness while shooting because it can add a subtle rawness to an image that is easy to loose if I over think something I am shooting.

These ideas are surely not applicable for every reader of the site but I have a feeling there are a number of you out there who may start to form some ideas from looking at photography this way even if they normally just sit idly within a subliminal level. There is always a moment in which every photographer starts to notice themes develop within their shooting, preferences start to form and the technical side of shooting starts fading into the distance as it becomes second nature. This is usually when they start to explore deeper meanings within their work as a whole.

Someone recently left a comment on an older post which stated that my description of a photo ‘unbelievably pretentious’. I don’t believe that I am smarter than anyone else or know more about how to be happy. I do, however, enjoy reminding those who may have forgotten that we are all capable of greatness and happiness, and exploring new ideas. I take criticism at face value and absorb any opinion shared because I know that there is always more than one way of looking at any one thing. There is not much that frustrates me more than arrogance and cynicism and if I ever come across as such I don’t mind being called on it. I will always honor the opinion of others and with that respect I hope you do the same.

Next up on my topic list, Something lighter. I am working on a write up with entry level film camera suggestions as the first in a series of public answers of frequently asked questions.


  1. shift - February 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I have been trying to articulate this very point for quite some time myself. I’m also new to photography, but not to the arts. So, finding a way to express myself through my photos as a medium is something new to me. Trying to find your own voice and expressing your point of view amongst the thousands of already amazing photographers can be daunting, but it can also be inspiring. In any case, before I go further into my tangent, thank you for this. It was a perspective I was hoping to hear.

  2. Lauren - February 7, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I think this is absolutely true and wonderfully well said! I think you do succeed in sharing your perspective through your photography… which is what makes it so excellent! I love photography because of the way that you can get a sense of how the photographer sees the subject… someway that is different than your own, but still has a ring of truth due to the connection to the greater reality. This is really hard to explain, you did it very well. ;)

  3. Carlos Cabezas - February 8, 2012 at 1:09 am

    I think your explanation is very done and I see your great understanding of Art and Photography, I am new in photography. I want to tell you, You are one of the persons that motivates me to keep “taking” or “making” pictures. I will look forward for the “film camera topics”. Thank you John.

  4. Neil - February 11, 2012 at 12:09 am

    Yeah I would second what Carlos has said to be honest, your work has really inspired me since the get go to learn about more photography and get into it, and I will always cite you as a influence and a source of inspiration which has lead me to discover a lot about this particular field.

    I guess you take in those influences but ultimately transcend them in order to find your own voice, even when trying to consciously copy someones style it still comes out as you which is the nice thing about creativity, or bad thing depending on how you look at it. Another thing is often these people rabbiting on forums and talking about aspherical vs non-aspherical and stuff like that, you think well let’s see your work? what are you doing? what are you trying to say with it? I really don’t think any of this stuff matters the equipment is there and it’s lovely to get lost in the romance of it and the technicalities of it, I’m guilty of that myself, but we forget the emotion and it’s important to quantify that in some sense.

    Anyway great post, I’m off to compare the Zeiss Ikon to the Leica M7.

  5. Sayeed - April 9, 2013 at 9:23 am

    I am not a photographer but I have an analysis. Every person has a desire to create or do something aesthetically beautiful and bring it home to show to family, friends and people at large. This I guess is the artistic pull inside all of us. But only those with a good taste and skills are able to translate this pull into a physical object (photo, sculpture, painting, design).
    As far as inspiration for photography goes, I think it could come from the fact that where everybody else saw a little girl standing alone on the road with a flower in her hand, you saw a picture that was worth taking to depict emotions like purity, innocence of that little girl. I think photographers have a natural ability to determine what would make a good picture and on top of that they also have the skills and tools to further enhance that good picture. But in the end we all want to bring home something beautiful. You would just place it in front of your eyes and look at it and say yes I did something wonderful today.

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