Musings on Photography

The Middle Ground of Meaning

Posted in Blogroll by Paul Butzi on March 25, 2008


Over on Julie O’Donnell’s blog this morning, I found this excellent post on meaning and photography.

Yes, I know, we’ve all been over this ‘is there meaning in photography/art is communication’ ground before. We’ve been over it too many times, perhaps. We all know the arguments, and we all trot them out again and line them up and then knock them down like toy soldiers. This time, though, Julie puts a different spin on the issue.

Quoting from the post (but make sure to go and read the whole thing):

I’ve been struggling with the concept of introducing meaning to my images by the process of thinking of something, then going out to make a photograph that conveys (or attempts to convey) what I was thinking. But the whole palaver seemed forced, awkward, difficult and more than a little contrived. It reinforced my opinion that I work best when reacting directly to what’s in front of me. I’ve conceded that while people can infuse their images with meaning this way, it just isn’t right for me, and trying to force myself to do it just makes me unhappy.


Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that I wasn’t conscious of changing my approach. I did it instinctively, and when I got home and looked at my shots I knew there was something going on there. And something tells me that it only happened because I’ve been there so many times, because I was in a particularly receptive state of mind on the day, and because I wasn’t trying too hard.

I’m glad I’ve chosen to base my SoFoBoMo project on the same place. I just have to hope that I don’t get bogged down and put myself under pressure to feel that again, so that I can be receptive to whatever comes to me next time. I think there’s a middle ground of meaning to be found.

What Julie wrote resonates pretty strongly for me. I, too, find that I can’t make pictures that are meaningful to me (let alone anyone else) by starting with the meaning and working forward. I can only go out into the world and respond to what’s in front of me, and use the process in the other direction; let the photographs teach me the meaning that I’m finding as I go along. This seems to be a fundamental thing that I’m unable to change, and I’ve learned over time to not fight it but instead just go along for the ride and see where I end up.
But the notable thing, as Julie points out in her post, is that the world of photographers is really broad. People make photographs for a wide array of reasons, and the reason I make photographs might be similar to the reason you do, or it might be wildly different.

The good news is that there also a wide array of photographers out there, writing about their process and motivations, and so it’s likely that there are people out there with motivations similar to yours. And there are people out there with motivations different from yours, but whose explorations of their own photography and their own process cast light on what you’re doing from a different and useful direction.

The more people who write about what they’re doing, the richer the world of photography will be. You don’t have to write stuff that appeals to everyone – it’s enough to connect with just a fraction. By writing what you think, how things are going, what you did today, and how it turned out, not only can you forge connections with a lot of interesting folks but the writing can become another tool in that search for what Julie neatly describes as the ‘middle ground of meaning’.

Best of all, you can set up a blog at or, and it costs nothing. You’ve literally got nothing to lose but the time it takes to write the posts, and see if it’s useful to you.

2 Responses

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  1. Robert Hoehne said, on March 25, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    I’ve joined the ranks of photo blogger recently, not sure my natter is worth much compared to many others out there, possibly just more noise for the great bloggers to swim over the top of.
    Also joined SoFoMoBo.

  2. julie said, on March 26, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Thanks very much for the mention Paul. It’s good to know it resonated with someone. I hope your words also inspire a few others to put their thoughts out there, because this whole blogging thing has both allowed me to read what other photographers are thinking, and to work some stuff out for myself by writing it down – I rarely have a conclusion in mind when I start a post!

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