YOU ARE YOUR THEMES
To tell stories or to make photo-essays or even a series of images, the photographer needs to understand her theme and to then choose appropriate subject matter that embodies or demonstrates the theme.
People often find this difficult. It is as though those things important to our lives are illusive, unidentifiable, or perhaps so much a part of who we are they seem impossible to disentangle from the rest of the fabric of our lives.
Or we have such low self-esteem that we believe there is little value in the things that amaze, haunt, preoccupy or enrage us, or that the sum of our experiences is less worthy than those of others.
On the other hand, given that for almost 40 years the Anglo-American culture has concentrated our attention on ourselves, on a ‘me’ centred world and away from a ‘we centred’ world. Therefore many people find it difficult to look outwards with sufficient curiosity to ask what is happening to others, what do others believe, care about, suffer from or are the lives of others similar to mine?
Perhaps this is true and one needs judgement and humility. But the more I think about the themes that are close to me, the more I recognise that they have, as John Berger said of himself, “chosen me”. Their presence in my life is a consequence of all I have experienced, all I have been a victim to and that which I continually revolt against.
I have needed to ask myself, are my themes so specifically about myself they would have little universal appeal? In other words, am I so ‘me’ centred, I believe my every sneeze is worthy of discussion? Or are my themes sufficiently broad, humane and concerned with making life more understandable, more manageable and more hopeful that others too would care about what I have to say?
For a few years I have been helping people discover their themes through mind-mapping. This process seems to work well, bringing people to the brink of self-discovery about what they are truly concerned with and how these concerns can be transformed into storytelling.
John Berger’s observation about themes choosing him has helped me to feel assured about the processes I take people through. It leads them away from a world in which they feel compelled to compare themselves and towards their own interior universe. In that relative quiet they can search for meaning and relevance. It is simply a matter of accepting the richness of one’s own life experiences and evaluating how others may respond.
What the photographer makes of them is another matter. They need to imagine and care for an audience, they need technical skills to tell a story, and the ability to transform three dimensional, kinetic energy into a two dimensional static image, while relying on the ability to pre-visualization the image and the needs of the story.
But those discussions are for another blog.