If there is one fact of life that we can count on, it’s that we will change as we age. Think about the kid who once hated Brussels sprouts or peas or lima beans—and all the dinner table arguments and cajoling to get that child to eat their vegetables. Then, twenty years later, much to the parents’ amusement and mild frustration, the now-grown child discovers a love for those once-hated foods.
This same thing can be said for probably just about everyone—we can all report similar experiences, not necessarily with vegetables, but with other things in our lives. Why? Because that’s what humans do. We grow and our tastes change. Sometimes, they change quite radically.
And that brings me back to the subject of photography. Most of us look at the work of other photographers and have been doing so at least since we decided to become photographers, sometimes before. Sometimes it is the looking that inspired us to become photographers in the first place. Maybe the work was created by famous photographers or maybe it was created by those who are lesser known. Whatever the case may be, most of us have been looking at photographs for a long, long time. We do it to get inspiration for our own work, to learn from the things that others are doing, and because we enjoy looking.
We also look at the work of others to learn what we like and dislike—and most of us, I’m sure, have at least a few photographs out there that we just don’t like. Perhaps there are even photographers featuring bodies of work that just doesn’t impress us. There are probably also dozens and dozens of unmemorable instances in which we didn’t necessarily dislike a particular image, but we had little or no reaction to it at the time.
All of this is important because, just like the kid who once hated their vegetables but now loves them, tastes change with time. Is it worthwhile to go back and look at photography books or images that really didn’t thrill us the first time we looked all those years ago?
I think so. You see, unlike the kid who got over their fear of vegetables, there is more going on behind the scenes where photographic tastes are concerned. It’s not just a matter of developing a fondness for a particular flavor. With time, we gain new experiences, our perspectives change, and we become more observant. This can lead us to seeing things we didn’t see before, or seeing images in ways we couldn’t have seen them a decade or two prior.
As an example, you may look at an image that you absolutely hated twenty years ago. Today, however, with years more experience under your belt, you now have developed a newfound appreciation for the lengths the photographer had to go through to create that image. You may now notice geometry or a carefully planned composition that wasn’t apparent to you in your younger years because you hadn’t yet learned enough about these things to pick them out in the work of others. Things change. We change. And that’s one of the greatest things about being a photographer, because as things change, we develop new appreciations for things we overlooked before.