Searching for meaning is something that most of us photographers do almost by default. After all, that’s the point of creating artwork, isn’t it? To create something meaningful that resonates with the people who enjoy it. And that’s why we spend so much time talking about how to imbue our photographs with meaning. Here is perhaps another way to look at or to approach that search for meaning.
As I said, this is something that most of us do sort of automatically as part of the creation process—but when we’re searching for ideas or photographs to take in the field, we’re also usually searching for other things beyond meaning. We might be looking for beautiful objects or looking for things that fit a theme we happen to be working on. For some of us, at times, the objective is to search out new things that no one has ever photographed before.
In this way, the search for meaning almost becomes an accessory to the rest rather than the primary focus of what we’ve set out to do on a given day. Perhaps instead of searching for the next new thing, things to fit our themes, or things of particular beauty, we should focus the whole of our search on meaning alone.
If you think about it, the search for some of these other, more mundane factors has the potential to lead us to create art that has already been done—often exhaustively. Finding something that has never been photographed before? This is an almost impossible feat in a world where billions of photographs have been made. If we focus our search on beauty, then it’s likely that our beauty ideals will align closely with those of many others—and that will lead us to take photographs of the same things that other people found beautiful.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking photographs of things that other people have already photographed. But I still think it valuable to approach these things with the idea of searching for meaning above all else.
That’s because when we are looking for meaning, we tend to apply our entire lives to what we’re seeing. One person can look at a cliff face and have fond memories of rock climbing with friends while another may remember a camping trip where they sheltered against a cliff during a storm. We all have different experiences and personal thoughts that we can apply to the world—and that’s how we give photographs a unique perspective, by creating them through our personal lens into life. You might find it worthwhile on your next photography outing to dispense with the idea of searching for particular subjects in favor of searching for things that stand out to you as meaningful. Walk through the world, and pause in those places that make you think, feel, or remember. Here is where you are likely to find the material that helps you create deep and moving photographs.