City of London Street Photography By Michael Wayne Plant

Photography is Easy, Meaning is Difficult

I have been working towards a way of working that is part documentary and part street photography for a while now and I have come to the conclusion that Photography is Easy, Meaning is Difficult. I have an idea for what I want to say with my photographs and the making of images is easy especially with current digital cameras, but the making of meaning is much harder. By that I am referring to the kind of meaning that I want to have in my images, not the meaning that is attributed to the image because of their interpretation of the image.

The title above is a riff on an essay by Paul Graham titled: Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult which explored photography contradictions (available here: If photographs are easy to make and as they illustrate fleeting moments created from life, why is it so damn hard to make them mean the thing that you want them to? Why do we as photographers have to work so hard to arrive at something that reflects our ideas and world view? I think partly it is because the moments when all the elements come together in a way that is aesthetically harmonious are so fleeting. I also think that this is partially to do with, how photographs can be interpreted in many different ways, that their meanings are never entirely fixed.

Maybe, it is that I am approaching my subject from the wrong direction. The other day, I was walking in the City thinking about the images that I am making and about my preconceived notions or ideas of what I want to be saying and was reflecting on another idea. One that I thought at the beginning of my City of London project, the idea of just photographing what is there, right in front of me without preconceived ideas. That is, what I really see before me as I walk the City, it is hard somedays as I get in the way of my own seeing and I think is something we all do. We all have notions about things, from what we have read, what we believe and experience, yet to be a good photographer it is the thing itself that we need to concentrate on. The particular time and space we are within that will give us the raw material from which to make our images. That is why photography is hard, I need to remember that, as I am out on the streets. The ability to reach in and just photograph what is there right before me, without preconceptions is something that I am working as a photographer.

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