I recently discovered the work of Jonathan Canlas and I have come to really appreciate his approach to family photography which is detailed in the FIND Family Guide: Ohana Means Family e-book. In it, he talks about creating great family portraits by being able to portray the love each of the members of a family have for one another. He says the best way to do this is by treating them like your own family and connecting with them as quickly as possible. He encourages you to use your own personality to draw them out during the session, and to use a myriad of other techniques to take control of the situation and get the shots you want.
You don't have browse his blog too long to realize that at this point in his career he is able to produce amazing photos that are personal and tell the story of each particular family, while retaining a signature look that is uniquely his. His photos just seem to have so much character. Part of that is his exclusive use of film (he also wrote a book called Film Is Not Dead), and part of it has to do with his approach. However, I believe a lot of it is a result of him finding his unique photographic 'voice', which is something he talks about in Family as well.
Canlas talks about finding this voice- the thread of what you are trying to say through your work that runs through every photo you take. This in and of itself isn't anything new- I've heard this before. However, now that I've committed time to growing this business in hopes of getting paid to photograph people, there's an interesting balance I am finding myself trying to make: doing what I believe will bring my clients the most value, while staying true to the direction of my creative vision. While I know (as Jonathan points out) how much families (including my own) value the 'the traditional' shot where the whole group is smiling and looking at the camera, I'm drawn to a more candid lifestyle / photojournalism-style of family photography which I find more in my personal work.
Canlas talks about how it doesn't make sense for your professional work and personal work to be different. To paraphrase, he says, 'why would they be different if your vision is the same?' I agree with this, but the challenge I'm starting to find even in this early stage is finding the balance between trying to find paid opportunities and creating work that serves people that are willing to pay me (whether they be the 'ideal' clients or not), while maintaining consistency and trying express my unique take on the world through my work.
How do you find and express this voice in the context of doing paid creative work? Is it simply an ongoing challenge of finding those ideal people and the right opportunities and finding your voice through that? Or is it the more personal question of discovering how you see the world and how to express that through your work, then finding the ideal clients once you've discovered that? How do you find that place where your unique voice is being used to serve the needs and desires of the people you work for?
More broadly, I know from working in the corporate world for ten years and from hearing about the experiences of others that finding this balance between doing work that pays the bills and work that is meaningful is a common struggle for everyone, whether you consider yourself a creative or not. I know that this is something I'll likely be wrestling with throughout my journey as a photographer. While I don't have any easy answers, I'd like to conclude by saying that while I believe it is important to find that 'voice', it should be grounded in truth and not simply about the 'voice' itself- after all what does it matter how we are saying something if the content of what we are saying is not true?
I'll end with a quote by 19th century theologian, Abraham Kuyper, which speaks to the related idea of the artist's 'motive' of finding the beautiful in the ordinary truths of life...
If you have gone through or are going through a similar struggle, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Have a great weekend!