Conceptual Photography

If you’ve every had a hard time explaining to someone that you’re a professional photographer it’s usually because you’re battling the stereotype of the mass public thinking that a photographer is someone who only takes family photos, school portraits and photographs weddings. Well, if you thought it was hard to define yourself out side of these three genres, then add the word CONCEPTUAL into the introducing and you’ll actually be able to physically see the persons not knowing what it is you just said or if you’re even talking about photography anymore. Eyes wide, Eyebrows get raised, it’s hard look directly at the person and the eyes go glassy. Usual tell tale signs that the person has checked out of the conversation.

Conceptual imagery or photography can almost be about anything, but it’s first driven by an idea….a concept for creating the photo in the first place. This is probably one of the largest distinctions between it and other genres of photography; and especially photojournalist, which strives to keep the images to just the recoding of the original scene without manipulation.

My attraction to conceptual art is the strong narratives, which are illustrated to help an image demonstrate that 1 + 1 = MORE. A favorite artist of mine is Chema Madoz who has brilliantly juxtaposed his subjects to visually illustrate an idea, creating a signature style that is often humorous.

Chema Madoz (Conceptual Photography Examples)

Another great example is Duane Michals and his use perspective to illustrate an idea.

Duane Michals, Things Are Queer

“Conceptual Photography is a type of photography that illustrates an idea. There have been illustrative ideas made since the medium’s invention…”

Now in the 21st Century, conceptual works are more and more prolific because of the digital art movement and the modern digital darkroom with supporting software like Adobe Photoshop, which has opened up peoples imaginations (art begets art) and allowed them to have the tools to create and not just record, at their fingertips. In todays culture, if you can imagine it….you can create it.

A few of my favorites to draw inspiration from are.

Erik Almås
Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, 2005
Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, 2005
Erik Johansson, Cloud
Tim Tadder, Water Wigs (left), Dia De Los Muertos (right)
Tim Tadder, Water Wigs (left), Dia De Los Muertos (right)

Conceptual photography is a visual illustrated result, from an idea, an idea which was preconceived, researched, produced and created. This is very evident in the above examples, because these pictures didn’t just happen but the visual results from a concept.

An image that I love….In full disclosure this is one of my own, but it was the result of a lot of effort and a lot of training and originated from a simple idea to illustrate food facts….facts about food. What are we eating? Where does our food come from? This single image, Syrup; is one of 17 images in an editorial series titled, Edible Truths. A conceptual editorial project to help connect the dots for the convenient generation, by illustrating something they experience everyday, but know little about.

Weston Fuller; Syrup 2013

With the result of having such strong visuals to illustrate a concept, this type of genre is a perfect fit for commercial use in both advertising photography and editorial photography. I personally find that images must stand a little more on their own with advertising than with editorial pieces, because the accompanied text within an editorial usually goes hand in hand with the illustrations working together to express the concept to the viewer or reader. Advertising photography relies on branding so the image is recognizable as part of the companies culture or campaign with or without the accompaniment of text. Conceptual Photography is also not limited to only commercial images, which is the result of a company influencing their view (or product) onto the audience / consumer. Conceptual Photography is also Fine Art Photography, which is filled with ideas and concepts being expressed by the photographer (artist) themselves.

We live in a visual world with images everywhere, most of them driven by an idea to capture the real and to create the surreal. We’re all different and we see the same world differently, from different angles, perspectives, emotions and ideas. So think big and create even bigger to express yourself……to express your CONCEPTS!

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