There was a pretty cool project conducted recently, supported by Canon Australia. In it, a group of professional portrait photographers were tasked with making a portrait of a man, but each was given a different backstory of that individual. To each photographer, he was either a self-made millionaire, a rescuing hero, an ex-con, a recovering alcoholic. Even a fisherman, God forbid. The man in question, of course, was none of these, but each photographer created a singular image largely informed, albeit subconsciously, by what they thought they knew about him. And this should surprise absolutely no one.
Our brains, as my guru Richard pointed out to me just today, create their own reality. It's what we haul around with us, and what helps us make sense out of this world -- which in my case can be quite a chore, indeed. It's unavoidable that what we carry is what largely informs the things we create as artists, as photographers, as anything. My passion is making portraits, and capturing in that image the heart, the essence, the personality of that fellow human. But to do so, I have to dig down inside myself too. Hopefully, I don't dig up old wounds and slights; what I look for are those shared bonds that link the two of us together. We will find there our compassion, not our prejudices. I may not always succeed, but the effort itself is instructive. Chief Dan George once said, sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.
This encompasses, of course, all of our photography, and not just portraits. Our best work reflects this understanding and is all the better for the effort. Ansel himself said that we don't make a photograph with just a camera. We bring to the act of photography all the pictures we've seen, all the books we've read, all the music we've heard, all the people we have loved. Art is autobiography.
Your brain knows what I'm talking about.