Week 99 —Urban Minimalism


Angie McMonigal, one of my favorite photographers, has been working on a photo project called “urban quilt” recently. I absolutely love the work, and in reflecting on what it is about this project that captivates me I’ve come to some interesting realizations about my own work.

My initial interest in photography was centered on the grandiose. I would go on a hike and feel the desire to visually communicate the vastness of the mountains. Or I’d sit on the Lake Michigan beach and want to capture just how tall and awesome those Chicago skyscrapers are.

I think this is pretty natural. We see something cool that excites us and we want to share that excitement with others. And usually that “something cool” is something that’s grandiose. There’s nothing wrong with this, but lately I’ve noticed my interests shifting away from the grandiose in the context of photography.

I think this shift is a product of a few things…

First, the grandiose subjects are starting to bore me a bit from a photographic perspective. They’re still fun to capture and share, but there’s less of a challenge in making a compelling image of the dramatic sunset than there is in making a compelling image of something that’s less obviously interesting.

Second, my recent foray into film photography has prompted me to be much more reflective about the photographs I’m making. The process is shifting from one of “see something cool and try to capture it in a technically sound image” to one of “make art from this scene.” Those are very different ways of looking at photography, and I’m excited to be viewing the art from a perspective that empowers the artist and isn’t as reliant on external factors.

Finally, I recently moved to Omaha and there just isn’t a whole lot of grandiose around here. There aren’t any mountains or dramatic skylines within a 7 hour drive, and once I got over the initial disappointment of this fact I realized that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The thing that makes the Midwest so unique is its lack of anything flashy. Nebraska isn’t about the grandiose — it’s about the subtlety of life. It would be unfortunate if I spent my time here betraying the place by trying to manufacture grandiose images.

All this has led me to a style of photography that I’ve noticed I’ve been pursuing recently. I’m going to refer to this style as “urban minimalism” (not my term), and you’ll probably be seeing a lot of posts along these lines over the coming months. I’m not sure I’ve completely fleshed out what this style consists of, but a couple key features come to mind:

  1. As the name implies, frivolous details will not be included. This means things that detract from the story — whether it’s a subject or a color or something else — will be framed out of the image. This will be an interesting challenge, and it’s one I’ve been considering ever since I reflected on my third roll of film.
  2. The details in life are so important, and they’re so often overlooked. This is especially the case in cities, where people always seem to be rushing from one obligation to the next…always stressing about what’s next and never stopping to notice that there’s beauty in the cracks in the sidewalk or in the way the paint is chipping off that fire hydrant… This style of imagery will (hopefully) help bring attention to these beautiful details.

Anyways, that’s enough rambling for the day — enjoy the image and I’ll be back soon with more minimalism (is that a contradiction?)!


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