Symbolism – a tool for taking better photographs
Not every picture you take has to have meaning deeper than the paper it’s printed on. But if you’re board with taking images that lay there like a dead fish, try spicing it up with some symbolic tartar sauce.
Symbolism. Dictionary.com defines it as the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character. I define it as a tool for making an otherwise forgettable photograph a less harder to not remember one.
I made the image at left titled Fall while I was walking around enjoying the park near my house. I didn’t set out thinking I would create an image that would rattle the Earth’s mantle, make grown men weep, and make children question the existence of god. And I certainly didn’t.
But when I noticed the way the setting sun was hitting the tree I thought it would make a cool looking picture. But before I snapped away I thought to myself, “Does the world really need another cool picture?” “Nope,” said the homeless guy eating a pidgin, standing in a trashcan with a patch over one eye and holding a red polka dot umbrella that was engulfed in flames over his head.
But I wanted to take a photograph because I like to take photographs. I could have just looked around for something that would be better that was already set up, waiting for me to–
“Do you have any ketchup packets or a fire extinguisher?” asked the homeless guy with a mouth full of feathers.” This guy was really distracting me from this well lit tree and the problem I was having of trying to take an image that would have at least some impact or create some story for the viewer.
I was loosing the light and to be honest, the smell of burning umbrella was starting to make me quease-out. I had to think fast, did I have anything symbolic in my camera bag? “Nope,” said the half eaten pidgen. “Will you two butt out!”
Ah-ha! I had 5 one dollar bills in my wallet. Money has all sorts of symbolism to it. It represents freedom and repression at the same time. The dollar bill means USA, capitalism, etc. I could just throw down some cash and let other people guess what it means. Perfect! So I stuck one on the tree and placed a few on the ground. I put one right up in front of the lens and hit that with some off camera strobe action to pull the viewers eye and presto, art. Well, a close proximity anyway. Most importantly I was able to put my camera away before the homeless guy transformed into a giant pickle balloon and attacked the nude sunbathers practicing for a Rubic’s cube contest.
The next time you’re heading out for a photo excursion bring along some props that are boiling over with symbolism and see what you can cook up. Post a link to the image in the comments below. We’d love to see what you come up with.
PS: If any part of this post doesn’t make sense, try looking for the symbolism.