On Meaning

“What is this?” “Where was this taken?” people sometimes ask when they look at my photos. And I feel torn. Should I tell them or not? If I do, will it ruin the experience for them or will it provide necessary additional information? Mostly I feel that I shouldn’t. When I was going through my photos for last summer’s exhibition, a good friend told me not to reveal too much of the photos. The theme was ‘moment before sunset’ and her point was that if there is someone admiring my sunset image and it brings good memories into her mind about something in her own life, she does not want to read in the description something about that sea being one of the most polluted seas in the world. In that case the purpose of the photos is to evoke feelings, not to convey information.

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There is going to be next year’s Wildlife Photographer of the year deadline soon. I find myself pondering about the difference between photojournalism and fine art photography, trying to find my place in those genres. I guess I’m leaning quite heavily on the fine art side. Which makes me wonder how much the jury values fine art photos in comparison to the ones that portray the subject truthfully and in great detail. Be it as it may, I will pitch in and I will do my best in what I feel that my niche is  – creating feelings and engaging imagination. Just to give you an example, in my own work I don’t think that pictures need to be focused. Blurred images sometimes have much more feeling that the focused ones as the tones then become softer and dreamier. Both in my own work as well as in others’ I mostly enjoy the opportunity to imagine what the story in the picture might be and not knowing the answer I enjoy making up my own story as I look at it. Similarly, of the feedback that I get, I mostly enjoy the ones where people explain to me what they see in the image and what it means to them. And when there are many different stories for the same image, that is for me the most precious image of them all. That has happened for example with the portrait Shadowed Woman. People have very different interpretations of it. It seems that we want to reflect our own thoughts from the art work we see, and it is very little you need to do to change the image in order to change the story for the viewer, sometimes just cropping it differently makes the image convey a completely different story.

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Our lives today are flooded with images. An image is such a powerful tool to convey both information and emotions that I see for example my students relying more and more on the nonverbal input when given material to study. Sometimes I find myself wondering if the importance of words is diminishing because sometimes people don’t seem to be bothered to read the text, they just look at the pictures. It’s really easy today to take a snapshot and upload it in the stream: ‘here’s my lunch’ ‘here’s my transport’ ‘there are the people I hang out with’ and ‘this is my house’. Text is being replaced by images and when people have something to say, they just post a picture rather than words and soon the stream is flooded with images. And when the pictures flood you, do you take the time to really see them or do they just run down the stream with the flow? How many of us see it as just a stream of information and do not take time to think about the story in the image? And those of us who do like to stay with the image a bit longer and get to know it better, can we find it in ourselves to appreciated simple things are do we just crave for more and more – flashier and more grandeur? As for myself, I’ve based on my work on the idea that I don’t do any post-processing and I don’t use any artificial light sources, and it does make it a bit difficult to compete with the retouched images as far as being flashy and grandeur is concerned. Wildlife Photographer of the year competition is the only competition I take part in, last year I made it to the semifinal. It is going to be exciting to see how I do this year. If there is anyone willing to help me decide which images to include, I will truly appreciate all the comments that you want to leave me in any of my sites. The  photos have to be nature photos and taken in Finland in the year 2011, all that information you can find for example in my Flickr stream. All the photos that haven’t been marked on the map have been taken in Finland.
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For me photography does not mean comparing my images to those of others, I have a strong vision of what I want to do and I will continue doing that no matter how well I do in a competition. It does not seem to be a choice either, going out with my camera is a necessity for me and I enjoy it enormously. This last image I took today in the wetlands standing in the middle of a swamp. I managed to find a spot for both feet, quite far apart though, and had to come down for a semi-crouch to get the right angle. In the middle of finding the right time and angle, I realized that it would be fun to create a monet-like effect in the image by kicking the water in order to make waves. In contrary to the way I normally think about pictures and words, this time I’m truly happy there isn’t an image to tell you this story and how it ended, but I do hope these words tell you why I love photography.
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10 thoughts on “On Meaning

  1. nice thoughtful post Annika. To me photos are an interpretation of what we see. As photographers, we aim to express whatever feeling moved us, however that feeling is put into words, either as emotion or aesthetic or intuition.

    From what I know of your work, I appreciate the sense of isolation and calm that comes through.

    Based on how digital photography works, though, I don’t see post-processing as a moral issue. Just making even a film-based image digital makes a certain amount of processing necessary. The processing I do is generally very subtle, but it helps the expression, the meaning I want to bring out, to ensure that the basic elements have been adjusted.

    best!

    1. Hi Ron,
      Thank you so much for stopping by and reading the post. Thank you also for the subscription, I’ve been to your side too and subscribed 🙂
      I’m most grateful for your thoughtful feedback. I don’t see post-processing as a moral issue either, it is just a choice I’ve made. There are lots of image-makers who thrive on photoshop and I admire them very much and have utmost respect for them. Quite often when I see their work I get really inspired and try to find a way to create a similar image with my camera and with natural light. I guess it is the challenge to work in an environment that does not provide you much choice that intrigues me.
      With my photos I aim to create images that appeal to the person who is looking at them and quite often I try to make them something else than what I see. I try to use camera to make the familiar view into something that is not so familiar. And in that sense I guess I am not trying to show others what I’ve seen. This might sound a bit crazy but I feel like I am trying to show others what people don’t necessarily see it that situation. And I guess that is why I often get asked ‘what is this?’. 🙂
      I love the fact that people who take photos have so many different reasons for doing it.

  2. Wonderful post Annicka!

    With the last batch of photos I took, I choose not to retouch. They were only of snow and the various patterns, etc. Very time saving.. in the past I see the editing as part of the creative process, although I am very turned off when I see it taken to extremes. With the low-budget camera I used, I notice quite often it doesn’t capture what I see. It’s a judgement call, case by case.

    After viewing much of your work over the past year and even though I’m a bit bias, imo your strongest work is that in which evokes a very delicate sense of fragility. As perhaps a flower petal floats on an invisible wind current or dances on the surface of a slowly moving stream. Though both examples move, the still sensitive capture evokes an homage to the sacred balance that can only be found in nature.. yes? It is the same we all contain, though senselessly often can no longer hear or see. The photos, the stronger I feel of your work, are reminders and inspirations.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Monique. The way you describe nature is very true of my feelings also when I’m there. Maybe that is what shows through my photos. As I wrote to Ron above my aim is not to capture what I see, and I don’t think any camera can do that, even the more expensive ones. I’m more into making images that that are enjoyable to look at, and I feel camera and nature are my only instruments in doing that, apart from what I can do with my choices of what time of the day I decide to go out, from which angle to shoot and how to adjust my camera.

      Truly grateful you stopped by Monique and left me such a thoughtful comment.

      Enjoy your day!

  3. Wonderful, thought provoking post Annika. It’s fascinating the reasoning that goes on behind the images people take. Yours have a beautiful, peaceful depth to them. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by Annie. I’m always delighted to see you here on my site 🙂 And I’m very grateful for the kind words, you Annie have always been one of those photographers I admire and your photos give me endless inspiration. Happy Holidays!

  4. Thanks, Annika, for this very helpful reflection on your process and your stance as an artist. Fine art definitely! Not only do we receive a flood of images in today’s world, but also a flood of words and stories. Not all images need to be turned into stories or contextual histories. I would say that your images belong in fine art category precisely because of this quality of crystallizing a nonverbal moment. Naturally, they may stimulate an association in the viewer’s experience, but the image retains a freedom nonetheless. An image like 4992 above, for example, has such a purity beyond words that I want to hold it in view and in mind. Thank you for seeing and showing as you do!

    ~lucy

  5. Words are mere images of our thoughts and with the currency of photographs, if you will, now so abundant, probably thoughts are conveyed in a more direct way, visually. I think it’s a step towards more elementary communication, now that storing those images is as feasible as storing words.

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