Episode 106: The Power of Photography (Minisode)
"Every time you pick up a camera, I urge you to consider how you can use the power of photography in a positive way."
This week Lisa takes on the minisode and explores the power of photography - the responsibility photography holds, how sonder relates to the implicit and explicit messages sent by photographs, and how we can be more truthful when crafting images.
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Lisa: Hi, welcome to Outside by Design. This is Lisa. It's just me today doing a minisode for you. So welcome to all our creative, outdoor-loving, nature- thriving humans who listen to this podcast. I'm really grateful to have the time between your ears. And I think podcasts are a really special way to communicate and to learn and I'm thrilled you're here. So thanks for being here.
We're doing minisodes because we have been talking to our audience quite a bit. A lot of you might've heard from us. But we've been talking to our audience about what type of content you want to hear. And people love interviews. They love hearing the stories of intelligent, motivated, innovative people in the outdoor industry.
And they were also interested in hearing from Iris and I, and learning more about life at a creative agency and kind of the expertise that we bring to the table working with tons of different brands. And I think something really special about agency life is that we don't deep dive into one brand like an in-house marketing manager does. Sometimes that looks so appealing to me, to deeply know one brand. But we work with tons of brands. We have about 30 projects going at once all over the outdoor industry. And so we receive this gift of a bigger vision of the industry - keeping information confidential, but knowing what one brand is doing versus what another brand is doing and all these different ways. And the absolute limitlessness of creativity is really what gets me fired up about owning an agency. So I thought I would share the perspective that I've gained over the years, working with lots of different brands and kind of these big themes that come up over and over again. And Iris put some stories up on Instagram, on our WHEELIE Instagram asking our community, you know, do you want to learn about this or this, this or this?
And so one of the larger amounts of “yes” was the power of photography. And I got excited to talk about that because it's a massive topic. I don't even know how I can distill the power of photography into 15 minutes. But I will certainly try.
So, um, there's an excellent episode we recorded a few episodes ago. Eric Arce talks about using a camera as a tool or a weapon. And I think that that is an excellent place to dive into the power of photography. If you are interested in this topic, definitely check out Eric's episode because it's phenomenal.
Okay. The power of photography. Where do I start? I always start really big picture. So hang with me.
Yes, there's this personal gratification that comes from picking up a camera and looking at the world in a unique way and sharing your vision there. That's absolutely experiential and it's gratifying. And as artists and creative human beings, creative souls, like that feels good to us.
And there's also this huge amount of social responsibility that comes with using a camera and putting your content out there. It's not just about you. And the really, really cool thing about working in the creative industry is that we are in a way, truth tellers. Or lie fabricators, too. But hopefully truth tellers. Where we are posting something, understanding there's the explicit and the implicit. And really, really high level creative work can honor both of those things at the same time and sit with those dualities. Let me try to explain it.
So. Photography deeply, deeply contributes to society on a systemic level. And what do I mean by that? I identify as a woman, I grew up socialized as a female. And the messaging that I received was very much like a very, very common story of girls who grew up in America, is that billboards are always telling you, advertising is telling you to be smaller, be skinnier, look this way.
And the way that that was accomplished, like, and ingrained so deeply in our psyches was largely through the use of photography. Photoshopping bodies. You know, making these unattainable bodies the standard. And kind of contributing in a really negative way on a systemic level to society.
And so I saw a meme the other day on the internet - who doesn't love a good meme? And it actually got me thinking quite a bit about this minisode and what I wanted to talk about. And this meme, it was split in half. So on the left, there were two, there were two photos and on the left it said Calvin Klein in 2000 and it had this photo of it, very, very skinny black woman kind of, like, doing a duck face into the camera, wearing clothing I would never wear, looking like my body does not look very, very, very skinny. Very Photoshopped, very airbrushed. And then on the other side of the meme on the split screen was, it said Calvin Klein in 2020, and it was this billboard and it had a very real, real looking black woman with curves and like very imperfect and blemishes on her skin and beautiful, beautiful, like very realistic.
And it's like, okay, there's some positive change in the world. And those are just two images side by side. But it really... those images contribute to what society says a woman should be. Or like when a little girl - or an adult woman - looks at a billboard, what is being implied? What are you directly saying, explicitly, and what are you implicitly saying?
And that's not a new concept. I'm not explaining anything new. But my spin on it is, I recently discovered a new word, which is called sonder. And sonder, the definition of that is sonder is a feeling, it's the realization that everyone around you, even strangers, are living a life just as complex as yours. Every single random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. And so that's a really cool word, sonder, because that's a feeling we have. That's why we like people watching. It's like why we like sitting in airports and imagining what other people's lives are like. Maybe you don't do that, but I do that all the time.
And you can take this idea of sonder into the implicit messaging when you post a photo or when a brand puts a photo out, because who's in that photo and what is that saying? And then there's also this underlying underbelly of advertising that's, who's not in that photo? Who is not included in this image? Who's not included in this culture?
And so you take this idea of sonder, right? And this is where it gets complicated in a commercial setting because you are likely selling something, right? You're doing product placement, you're showing a better future. This is what your life could look like if you have this really great cooler or this really great tent. You know, there is an objective.
So when I talk about sonder, what I mean is that every single human is looking at this photo and they bring with their eyes, their own set of beliefs and experiences and thoughts and feelings.
And so a really, really surface-level example, I think, is like golden retrievers, which I love. I think you might be able to hear mind barking right now in the background. I'm sorry. I think there might be an animal in my yard. I live in the woods. Anyway. Golden retrievers. If I see a photo of a golden retriever, I smile. Because my first experience in life with golden retrievers was my next door neighbor had golden retrievers and she drove this Jeep and I used to stand in my driveway playing basketball or kicking a soccer ball, and she would pull up in her driveway and she'd roll out of her Jeep like, with her golden retrievers and she was so muddy and so like wild and free. And I was like, “Oh my God, that lady is the coolest.” And so to me, golden retrievers were this future of like, freedom and mountain exploration and dirt. And so when I see a golden retriever, still to this day, because of the sonder, the experience of my life being unique, when I see a golden retriever, I associate that thing with freedom and love and just going ape shit in the mountains and kind of like having this return to wild, embracing your wild. Like all of that, all of these things, right, are wrapped up into like a picture of a golden retriever on Instagram.
You know, and I once dated a fellow who didn't like golden retrievers, he told me they were triggering and that they represented everything wrong with America, white picket fences and consumerism. And so when he saw a photo of a golden retriever, he was like, ugh, and I was like, “ah, bro, this isn't going to work out.” That's, that's a hard, hard value clash there. Not that one is better than the other, but when he saw a photo of golden retrievers, he felt like triggered in a bad way.
And to go a little deeper in this conversation and get into it in a little bit more of a high risk, high consequence context, is that if you've been hired by a brand as a photographer, or if you work in-house at a brand as a photographer, as a creative, you're in charge of selecting photos from photographers, all kinds of ways that brands and photography interact. If you've been hired to shoot for a brand, you go into it with this understanding that some people are going to have a positive feeling when they look at your photo. They're going to have that positive, freedom, golden retriever feeling when they look at your photo of branded content, and some people are going to have that negative reaction, they're going to have that, like, ew, that's what's wrong with America kind of response. There's tons of responses in between, obviously, but as an example, like some people are going to have a negative connection because they, like everyone, are bringing every experience and thought and feeling that they've ever had into their eyes when they look in that photo.
So you go into that and you, and you know, like, yes, that is what makes the world amazing and unique. And people are full of self-expression and that's really like the beauty of life is being able to fully express yourself and knowing that people are going to react to that in a different way.
And so as a creative, like how can you do this with honor? So every time you pick up a camera, I urge you to consider how you can use the power of photography in a positive way.
How can you mindfully craft images that are going to be inclusive? That are going to meet the requirements of that brand? Whether it's a social brand, like where there’s a lot of people photographed together, or a female brand, or a very active brand. Right? How funny is this photography? How serious, how dark, how bright... is there one person alone in nature? Is it a really thoughtful image? Or is it a fun party image where just like, looks like normal people recreating? Is it bad-ass? Is it calm? Like there are all these things that you have to consider when you pick up a camera.
And then I also urge you to just kind of think about this concept of sonder, that every single human has a life as complex as yours. And what does that mean for photography? And what does that mean when you pick an image or when you're going to make a billboard or an ad? Because it's more than people camping. It's people camping in a certain way, a certain culture camping in a certain way. That's what someone is going to see. They're not going to see Steve. They're not going to see Erica. They're going to see what that person represents. They don't know that person in the way that you do. And so that person becomes almost a symbol for a culture. And there's a lot of weight in that. There's a lot of pressure around that. And making sure that as a creative human being, you are capturing your vision, because your vision is unique and it is special. And that's why I think it's very important who's behind the lens as well as who is in front of the lens. I think it might even be more important, to be honest, because you're literally showing your lens of the outdoor industry when you're behind it.
And so how can you be more truthful? What can you craft, what can you art direct? What can you say,” Hey, let's include this in this shot.” “Hey, that doesn't feel right to me.” You know, what can you do that brings in your personality and your vision into your photo, but also acknowledging that when you include certain models or athletes in your photos, you're also excluding certain models and athletes. And what are you going to do about that? How can you diversify your portfolio? And that means so many things, that means colors of people and products and places. That means styles. That means editing techniques. It means different cameras, different approaches, like there's so many ways that you want your body of work to be inclusive and be really hireable for a brand because you can't control the narrative after your creative work is released into the wild. And when it's published, when it is like a baby bird that you're releasing and it flies away into the eyes of society, you're not going to be able to control that narrative.
What you can control is how you did the work, how you made it, if you feel like you added the outdoor industry in a positive way, or if you just perpetuated more toxic or more played out stories and narratives. Did you show up as yourself? Did you produce work that resonates with you? Did you produce work that you're proud of? Did you think about how people might experience things differently and that played at least a factor in how you created commercial work? When it's fine art, we can make whatever we want, but when it's commercial and there is an end goal, we have to consider that goal and how it's reached.
And so things go out into the wild, they drop into society and it, you, you don't have control of that. So be really mindful of using that power of the camera in a positive way. And I think really approaching your work from a place of gratitude, like what a beautiful, beautiful thing a camera is to be able to capture the world and to tell truth and to hold up an image and say, look at this, this is what I saw in the world today. This is what I saw in society. This is what I saw when I got asked to photograph a camping scene. I think that's a really beautiful thing.
Yeah. I love this stuff, if you ever want to reach out to me and talk about this stuff. Yeah. Feel free to shoot me an email. It's email@example.com.
As always, we always kind of do this like shameless plug, wheeliecreative.com is the creative agency that I own, feel free to check that out. You can also contact me on the website.
And as always, if you're listening to this podcast, leave a review. Write a comment. Let me know what we could do better or what you like. And those positive five-star reviews help get us in the ears of more people. And lastly, of course, if you would like to be a guest on the podcast, or if you'd like to nominate someone, again, reach out. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email email@example.com if you would like a faster response time.
Yeah, again, as always, thank you for being here.