Making Images Again in Vehicle City When someone brings up Flint, Michigan, the conversation usually revolves around the topics of lead-tainted water, low income and crime. Flint has had—and continues to have— highs and lows. But, here’s the thing about Flint: the people who live …
No Need to Travel Far
Imagine this: It’s 14 degrees Fahrenheit in your quaint burg and you’re trying to find the inspiration for making pictures. For those of us in the Midwest’s finest snow belt, a decent pair of warm gloves and boots can be hard enough to find, let alone a dose of creativity.
No matter where you live, it can be challenging to find a place to make images. I bring up the winter aspects of it because these can be especially difficult conditions.
Not long ago, I found myself in such a predicament. The snow, cold and clouds suggested I should stay indoors and eat grilled cheese with soup instead of trudging through salt-laden streets hoping my camera’s batteries don’t die.
The difference between an artist and others is that artists make art. It’s that easy. With photography, especially street photography, we thrive on the unknown and the photographs that might be.
Knowing this, it’s important to realize that the potential for wonderful pictures is out there and that we don’t fully realize what types of pictures we’ll capture until the day is done. That is precisely what I told myself prior to loading up my film camera and heading out to the nearby small town of Mancelona, Michigan.
Embrace Your Surroundings
Mancelona isn’t the type of town that would be most peoples’ first choice as a photographic destination. This is exactly the reason I chose it. It’s fresh photographic country. There’s personality there and it’s a hard-scrabble town with grit and structure.
The population of Mancelona: 1,366.
This is where the name Village Voyager comes into play. Small towns are full of photographic gold, you just have to look around. And, this is one of my favorite photographic pursuits.
Crunching through snow and ice, I was enjoying the colors that presented themselves through the gray of the day. Snow doesn’t hide color, it makes what color is there blast forth and become visible.
There typically isn’t a lot of activity taking place, especially in one as small as Mancelona. Before COVID-19, it was fun walking up to strangers, getting to know them, and making their picture of what it was they were doing, or making their portrait.
In the meantime though, it’s enjoyable appreciating and capturing details of small-town life: an old rusty car collecting more rust; buildings that have been standing for seemingly forever; and maybe even someone who has a unique lawn ornament.
Making Photographs For You
These types of photographs may or may not be award-winning pictures. But, that’s not the point of this at all. The point is that if you wish to create and grow as an artist, the most important thing you can do is hone your craft and the best way to do that is to simply get out there and do it.
No need to travel far. If you concern yourself with creating art by working smarter, instead of harder, you’ll find yourself building your skills.
Most Important Though: Use What You’re Comfortable With Readers, my journey through photographic gear started many, many years ago. Gear can be the absolute kryptonite of creativity so what I’m offering here is a simple observation from my point of view. Take what you can …
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It Started with National Geographic
When I was just starting out with photography, my main source of inspiration—and countless other photographers’ inspiration—was National Geographic magazine. In its pages, you could be transported to a Hawaiian volcano, a Mongolian steppe or in an Italian village.
Not only that, but National Geographic magazine and the photographers they utilize maintain a painstaking and thorough process to make sure the photos published are the best they can be to tell the story.
These days, it’s almost impossible to scroll through Instagram and not see magnificent images of far-off places. It seems like everyone is traveling around the world with their iPhone as they capture a stunning sunrise or a perfectly still lake.
Don’t get me wrong, traveling around the world to make pictures would be an absolute dream. But, before you get down on yourself about not being able to do this…there’s hope! You don’t have to travel far to make good pictures.
No Need to Leave Your “Backyard” for Quality Pictures
Wherever you’re located on the planet, is ripe for picture opportunities. The reason for this is that you are in a unique place in the world compared to where everyone else is at.
While working as a photojournalist, I’ve learned that beautiful, moving and compelling images can be made anywhere, you just have to be creative and look for them. Within whatever community you’re located in, you could find enough variety to concentrate your work on people, architecture, landscapes—or all three. Make a portrait of a neighbor; capture an interesting building nearby; and/or photograph a hay bale in an interesting way.
Focus on Your Surroundings
No doubt, it may be more difficult to find inspiring material in some communities compared to others. If it just seems too challenging to find good pictures, here’s a tip: focus on what your area is known for or what you feel is interesting in your surroundings.
For example, if you live near a metropolitan area, try your hand at street photography or capture some of the architecture there. If you live on a vast stretch of land with no people in sight, capture that vastness the best way you can.
It’s all about capitalizing on your surroundings. Actually, that’s only part of it. Your images should also mean something and be interesting to you. When the images you make mean something to you, you’ll find that your pictures will be better and you’ll be more invested. If you’re able to do this, you’ll discover there are more options around you than you thought.
Danny Wilcox Frazier is a photojournalist who has produced some astounding, in-depth work by documenting his surroundings and people in rural Iowa. Ask 20 photographers where they’d like to make images and you’ll receive 20 answers—none of them rural Iowa.
Another inspiring photographer who captures portraits, but also simple details and color, is Allison V. Smith. Smith, by watching a presentation of hers, was highly influential in teaching me that beauty can be viewed anywhere. The photo on her website’s landing page is currently an athletic track. It’s a fantastic image.
An important aspect of image-making that you must remember is that while it’s awesome to be inspired by these, or whoever you like, and by their pictures. Just don’t copy them. What will help you grow will be to find your own voice and style that is uniquely you. The best way to do this? Make pictures. Easier said than done, I know. But that’s the best way to do it.
Once you realize the potential you have in your immediate environment, savor it. Relish in it. Photograph it. When you understand that places nearby can be a trove of distinct photographic potential, the world is yours.