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The editing process: Emotions vs. reason

I was reading an article on Winogrand by Eric Kim, and came across a quote that still startles me: “Sometimes photographers mistake emotion for what makes a great street photograph.” And by that, he means that our first emotional response when remembering a shot may not lead us to objectively assess whether the shot is good or not. He therefore advocates to wait a while (or a year in his own case) before editing and processing images, so that all memories attached to the moment would have disappeared, leaving space for clear objectivity. This advice appears to be a valuable one, at least partly. I oftentimes get attached to pictures too much, and then wonder why these pictures are not receiving the praise or attention they truly deserve. Objectively, they are probably flawed and I may start to dislike them later on. Conversely, certain images fail to move me personally, and seem to be on the verge of flatness. Yet they may receive much attention and praise, unlike some of my favorites.

And yet as time passes, my opinion – rather my affection – for my pictures never cease to be true to my initial emotional response. I tend to love certain images and dislike others. No matter how many likes they get, the ones I dislike will never end in my portfolio. Why is that?

Because, to me, the emotion I feel while taking the picture and then processing is like a deep-rooted connection to myself. It goes hand in hand with my vision. I may realize that my shot was not as good as I remember it, and will therefore not keep it. But despite my best efforts, it is hard for me to step back from my pictures and look at them objectively, analytically, out of context of my emotions – past and present. The way I see this is simple really: no matter how good a photograph is, if it isn’t fueled by some deeper emotion, I won’t learn from it and expand on it. I will not integrate it into my vision for my work. It will be a one-time shot, nearly a missed opportunity, on the verge of failure. Devoid of meaning. Out of context. To me, emotions are just this: a self-guide to assess the validity of my images versus my vision, and conform my editing/processing to the authenticity of this vision. It’s likely restraining to me, as I reject some good shots along the way, and favor more enduring versions of my inner world.  But it makes me feel alive, it makes me feel whole and consistent. It gives a voice to my intuition and does not try to explain everything.

As you probably know, I am very much in favor of analyzing one’s pictures against both form (composition) and content (subject), not only to assess the value of individual pictures, but also to understand patterns across images, explore alternatives, and learn from our mistakes and success at a global level. But analytical studies are not incompatible with emotions, far from that. In fact, I would advocate for a dual assessment at the time of editing and processing, as well as later on, in the context of your entire series:

·       Emotional and personal: Is it aligned with what you want to convey, to achieve? Does it feel right? Does it create an emotional response in you?

·       Objective and analytical: Is my composition interesting enough? Am I correctly using light? Is my subject worth of interest on its own? Does the story come across easily?

If it feels right to wait before editing your pictures, then by all means – do it! I for myself know that my memories of the moment are important enough to be incorporated in the final editing process. That something, in the city, has resonated with me, and this is this something that I want to convey through my new series. And because of this, I cannot wait. This is part of my creative process. Now, to give time the chance to work miracles out, I will never create and edit series right away. I will wait until the test of time has demonstrated whether I am 1. Still emotionally attached to the picture, and 2. Objectively assured that the picture is good enough to be included in a formal series. But the image itself will often remain as it is, same as the day it was conceived – made of emotions, good and bad, right or wrong.

At the end of the day, each one his or her own process, and assuredly, Winogrand was right about himself. His tremendous work proves it enough. You will need to figure it out on your own.

Good bye, and good luck in your photographic journey :)

Marie Laigneau

Find more street lessons here: marielaigneau.com/blog/

PS: All pictures in this series have been edited a week or two after shooting. I believe that they all reflect the feelings of the day, of the moment – the connection I felt with the city at the time, and with its inhabitants.