Switching subjects is more than a change of scenery, it's a change of operation and perspective.
Fair warning. New Year resolutions don't always pan out in spite of our best intentions. Diets literally crash. Exercise plans fall by the wayside - too soon. Other imagined good habits never materialize. That's the nature of it when it comes to tossing magical coins into fountains: making a wish is never good enough.
Which is why I'm careful treading into photographic waters yet unexplored. Sure, it's easy to talk about it. Doing it is another matter. Focusing less on people as my subjects is on par with giving up drinking, exercising more, and maybe losing religion for good, wrapped up in one big, wishy-washy wish. People for me, has been the foundation of my photography, my raison d'être. Without people, I find 99% of photography completely and utterly pointless.
Less people could lead to innovation
So why shoot less of the thing you love the most? How will this improve my photography, if this is my intention?
There is one thought which have nagged at me of late which I believe is a warning sign from the depths of my Photographer Self.
Your street photography, though always improving (at least according to the feedback received), is border-lining on stagnancy. In my eyes. In my estimation. In my opinion. It's not that I'm bored of it - far from it. I could go out and shoot street photography every day of my life and not ever be bored of it.
What's tricky is when doing the something you love no longer feels like art.
No, I don't consider myself an 'artist' nor do I want to be called one - I'm a photographer, thank you very much. But I'm a photographer who pursues art. That is, I regard my subjects as painterly creations. I see them as important characters hanging on the walls of a majestic castle. Additionally, I imagine there's a greedy king on the throne who has a thirst for art, and not just the same old fucking pictures that everyone sees in the banquet hall. He wants new pictures decorating every corridor. He wants new pictures hanging for every season. He wants a new look, a new feel, a new everything in his visual collection to bring life to his universe of heavy stone and vast spaces. Something must always fill this void which isn't a void; it must be imagery.
This imaginary king is but a metaphor for a very real force inside of me. It has been there all along from a very young age, an urge, a desire, a passion for see something that I create and seeing something new. They are not separate ideas but intertwined into one patch of real estate: I must create new things; I must see new things. One could say my creative drive resembles that of a semi colon; it's a two-parter that cannot be separated without losing an essential truth.
New frontiers won't necessarily emerge from a change of subject matter. This, I imagine the case to be. Telling myself I won't photograph as many people in 2020 isn't going to change my photography unless the weaning bit comes into play in a major role. Weaning requires a substitution. In photographic terms, the most complicated and impactful element has got to be composition, when all other elements of style feel like the introduction of tweaks and overhauls won't be enough.
One way forward I see is focusing on urban landscapes, where people don't play a huge factor or none at all. Mumbai is where I spend most of my time. I've always explored it based on groups of people that I will see in each locale. I'll write more on this subject in the future, but I think removing the people factor will force me to reckon with a scene, which is something I feel intimidated by and yet fascinated by the prospect of exploring.
Is there a new way of looking at the world that I can find when I'm not focusing on people as my prime subjects?
Apart from becoming a graphic artist and a master of Photoshop, where I could simply cut out my people and plop them down into new worlds or simply pimp-out their existing world with new colors and varying shades of shadow and light - I need to find a more fundamental way to see my world and theirs. Looking to upgrading my Photoshop skills isn't the way to go about it.
Composition, however, could be the key.
People is a background-to-subject proposition, in my playbook. If the background isn't any good, most of the time I won't take the shot. If the subject is just too interesting to pass up, and the background isn't good, I'll shoot wide open and blur the background out and try to make a portrait from it. For me and my street photography, I love to see a great background or a decent one to compliment my subject. This is the ultimate situation, especially when relating it to composition. To put it plainly, the background is on par with subject selection in my photographic world.
When I say that I want to shoot less people, that doesn't just mean my subject matter is changing; it means my entire way of looking at photography changes. This is what non-photographers probably don't think about. When a product photographer loves what he does and prefers that to other genres, his way of shooting is tied directly to what he shoots. Thusly, he may be lost if you set him loose in the streets to shoot some street photography. Same could be said for a constraining a street photographer and confining him to a studio. How to shoot is in direct proportion to subject selection and preference.
So if I'm weaning myself off people, I'm in the wilderness, lost. How the hell do I photograph the world or anything in it? I can't approach it in the same way that I encounter potential subjects in the streets. Removing people means reconsidering my background-to-subject relationship parameters. Removing people means doing something else for lack of a better strategy. For me, the simplest way may be to reverse the polarity.
The way forward
Reversing my polarity would mean considering the foreground-to-subject relationship as key to the best imagery. This approach, consequently, rules out much of street photography's spontaneity. If I wanted to shoot street photography in this mode, I'd have to locate my foreground well in advance of photographing moving or immobile subjects. It would mean less shots. A whole lot less.
I could be wrong, stupidly wrong, but I imagine that a foreground-to-subject style of shooting is more in line with what landscape photographers do and equates to taking a lot more time to set up. One will never see a landscape photographer just walking around and upon spying their mountain, take a quick shot, and move on to the next spot. They must compose from their position to the horizon. Foreground is or at least should be as important to their composition as any mountain, river, or sky. Which is why you often see these guys at their locations hours before sunrise setting up their shots.
Similarly, weaning myself off people, however fully, will require a considerable set up time. I don't see it happening any other way. Maybe by definition this is simply urban landscape photography. But for me, before I can call it anything, I'll have to wrap my head and my lens around reversing my polarity, and trading my background-to-subject preference (people) in for a new perspective.
Curiously, there is another spelling of "wean" that is ween. Naturally, it has a different meaning albeit an archaic one in usage. Ween means to think, to imagine, to fancy. Weening myself off people would then take on a slightly different tone: thinking of, imaging, fancying taking less shots of people.
As in, In 2020, I'm weening myself off people.
Why? Because the King demands it.