on being timeless

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A while back, I made a comment on a very well respected photographer who posted a photo he’d taken in the early 90s. The photo was stunning: a simple black and white shot of a bride in a very 90s gown, slim, sleek, simple with hair up in a curly updo. She was standing against a city backdrop, just looking straight at the camera with her hands on her hips. I told him I was grateful he posted this nearly 30 year old photo, and that it was so “timeless”. And then I cringed. Timeless didn’t do the photo justice.

This word, Timeless, it gets battered around, especially in the industry I primarily lived in for the past 7 1/2 years. I’d venture to guess that, at least 90% of wedding industry members have used the word timeless to describe their work at some point. This word has been overused so often, that it’s now a word that is almost completely banned by self-proclaimed marketing experts among wedding professionals because it no longer means anything at all. Well I’m here to change that. I’m here to define “timeless” and what it means in my humble or not so humble opinion.

Here it goes.

Timelessness is actually very hard for me to describe. It’s even harder to execute, which is why I do believe there isn’t much merit to someone calling their own work timeless. There are very few people who actually achieve a level at which their work is timeless. I’ll do my best to describe my idea of what it means without butchering what I’m trying to say too much.

Being timeless should never refer to something that has such a bland aesthetic that it could have popped out of any time period, and you’d never be able to tell when the photo was taken. For a piece to be timeless all it needs to do is to make an impact no matter when someone views it. That’s it. It sounds easy. It is not easy. The scene could be photographed in a heavily stylized way, but at the end of the day, the question you have to ask yourself is, does it still stir an emotion? Do you still find the image to be beautiful? Does it still tell the story? If you can do those things, you work is timeless.

How does one achieve timelessness? Here are a few ways you can achieve this (and by you, I mean you and me both):

  1. Learn about yourself. Understand yourself. Pull art from your own world view.
  2. Learn about and understand your client(s), the people who you are serving, the people who will view or purchase your work and champion it. I don’t have this one on the list to make sure you change yourself or your work to fit other people, I say this because you need to understand who you are serving in order to better understand the art you want to create, the changes you want to make in the world.
  3. Play. Write. Practice creating imagery that tells the truest story. It doesn’t have to be the truest story in the sense of only depicting the exact scene in front of you, but it does need to be your truest story.
  4. Don’t change your style, your film stock, your medium just to please other people or to make yourself different aesthetically. If you are true, you will always be different than your peers because no one person has the same exact life experience, has read the exact same book list, was born with the same genetics. If you are you, you never have to “zag when everyone zigs”.
  5. Don’t compromise on your values just because it’s what everyone else is doing.
  6. Don’t buy into gimmicky styles in photography just because other people say that’s the only way you’ll ever book X client. Do the work you do. Nobody needs you to add an orange filter or shoot film or work with off camera lighting if it doesn’t resonate with the story you’re trying to tell or way you need to tell it.

Study Peter Lindbergh and Annie Leibovitz. Study Ansel Adams. Study John Dolan. Study Elizabeth Messina. Then walk away and figure out who you are. Don’t copy these people, don’t feel like you have to shoot like them, just understand why they are so revered, why their work makes an impact. Study them to understand how well they understood and still understand themselves.

Can I guarantee that you will be able to produce timeless art by following these simple steps? No. I can’t even promise that my work is timeless. The truth is, all you can do is strive for it. And, if you happen to make beautiful work that’s not timeless along the way, that’s okay too. The truest, most timeless thing you can do is try.

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