Lately I’ve read about a number of photographers (re)discovering using themes in their work to give them structure and inspiration.
As I see it, there are loosely two ways to approach using themes.
First, by choosing a specific theme before you make a single photograph. For example you might decide you want to make pictures of the shoes of businessmen, or redundant red telephone boxes converted for other purposes, or yellow bicycles.
Then, with this theme in mind, you head out with your camera looking for subjects and compositions that fit the brief.
I can certainly see the appeal and the benefits of this approach, especially if you’ve felt in a rut lately, just photographing the same things over, or not photographing at all.
Personally though, I tend to prefer the other broad approach, which is like the first, only backwards. Or inside out, depending on how you wish to look at it.
By just photographing what you find interesting, moving and beautiful, even if the subjects aren’t exactly the same in every image, over time you will naturally gather a collection (or a few collections) of photographs around a share theme or themes.
This feels more relaxed and organic to me, and avoids the trap of feeling I have to make photographs of specific objects or around set themes, just for the sake of it.
The ones that have emerged in my work over the last perhaps 12 years I’ve been photographing with intention, essentially fall in two camps.
Described literally, stuff that’s decaying, and stuff up close.
Sometimes both of these in one photograph.
To give these two themes or projects a more poetic turn of phrase, I like to call them “When Nature Reclaims” and “The Beauty Is In The Detail” respectively.
As I said, I’m not consciously thinking when I got out on a photowalk, “Right, I need to make sure I get some great photos of flowers up close and some ivy rambling all over a crumbling gravestone today”.
I just kind of photograph what I enjoy, even if often that is close up flowers (the beauty is in the detail) and ivy rambling over crumbling gravestones (when nature reclaims).
Something I’d like to do more is review my past few years of photographs and see what other themes or projects emerge.
I’m sure there are some smaller and more subtle ones to be found, like pictures of the little yellow signs we have over here with an H and numbers on that signify the location of a hydrant in a street.
How about you? What themes have naturally arisen in your photography? What specific projects have you taken on with a set theme in the past, and how have they worked out?
Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.