I’m a photographer. In the past year, I’ve spent countless hours looking over my images, sorting them, editing them, resorting them and giving up on them. I’ve had a website up and live with a format and theme that I loved for a few months now but haven’t been able to put any of my photographs on it, mostly because I don’t know what I want people to see or how I want them to see it. In my first conversation with my photojournalism internship supervisor, Tom Wolf, I reluctantly admitted my troubles and anxiety about this website dilemma. Immediately he understood and made it one of his goals to help me establish the functionality of my website and business and get me feeling comfortable and confident not only in my images, but in my style.
I wasn’t expecting to have such a motivating first conversation, but as soon as my goals became his goals, I knew I had landed into a great opportunity. I was still sort of nervous and anxious for our first meeting and photo shoots but they were extremely rewarding in helping me find why I like to photograph, what I like to photograph and how I like to photograph. Within a few short weeks he had me analyzing the images I’ve looked at hundreds of times as if I had a new pair of eyes. Instead of deciphering subject matter, I searched for texture, lines, warmth, and contrast. As I start to become more aware of my intention and personal characteristics behind the viewfinder, I realize that I do have a style and defining that is a key part of shaping my photography.
Two weeks ago Tom and I met to go over my newly sorted images and discuss why I sorted them the way I did and what some common themes were present. As we were going through a folder I titled “Radial” he asked me the obvious question, “Why do you photograph?” I never thought I could be so tongue tied by such a simple question.
Seeing my struggle, he asked a follow up question: “Do you know what you want your viewers to feel or think when they see a Katie Cosgrove picture?” Finally I conjured up an answer that quieted all of my previous hesitations. I really want people to come away from my images thinking in a positive way that there is something they can or should do to help themselves, the environment, or somebody else. I proceeded to explain to him on a tangent that one thing that’s always resonated with me is the Hindu value of ahimsa, nonviolence to any living being in action, thought, or intent. Rooted in this ideal is the belief that everything is connected spiritually, which helps build the Hindu circular cycle of life. I’m not Hindu, I’m not affiliated with any religion really, but this is something that’s made sense to me in my studies and experiences.
Honestly, until that conversation, I didn’t know this ideal of ahimsa was present in my work and goals. The following week I had to write a blog post of what photography means to me and I kept that new revelation in the back of my mind as I wrote. For me it’s not only capturing the moment to preserve or control it but to learn from it. I want people to learn what’s important to them through what they experience in my photographs, just as I have. In my blog post I wrote:
I think that the one thing that drives me to take and share [pictures] is the fear of losing something. I’m scared of losing people close to me, memories, good feelings, information, lessons I’ve learned, etc…. I can look at a very specific picture of, say, a tree and remember that exact moment, what I was feeling, and why I want to remember that. But I would hope that someone else would look at that same picture and think, for example, of a childhood memory that they haven’t recalled in a while or how they really miss being outside and need to take a break from the cubicle life. In my life I was fortunate to come out of a bad experience with a realization of what’s truly important to me and how I need to appreciate it before it’s gone.
As I do these simple exercises and start to look at my images with different lenses, I realize that there’s a lot more personality rooted in my work than I thought. I never knew that I had a style or themes or a goal, but I do, and Tom has helped me see this. All of my anxiety and anticipation concerning the internship has completely dissolved and I’m beyond excited to enter the journey of finding myself in my photography.