I recently sold of some of my old camera gear, a guy came to picked it up and we had a long talk about photography. After talking with me for some time and showing each other our photos he said:

Him: “Your photos are too nice.”
Me: “I think we have different preferences, I enjoy the beauty of life”
Him: “Haha beauty, like shooting flowers?”

He’s photography style is the classic baby boomer generation style. Drama and ugliness, like photos of homeless people with clarity turned to +100%.

Drama: this guy gave me the finger when I took a photo of him. The kind of drama the guy I talked with would probably have appritiated.

Me: “Beauty is everywhere not only only in flowers”

He looked disappointed at me and showed me a photo he had taken. The photos was of an old lady, shot with a wide angle close up, with a direct flash. The old nice lady looked ugly like a monster. Because of the wide angle lens and the direct flash, he had turned her into something she was not.

Him: “This is what it’s all about”.

I talked some more with him but gave up to explain to him. He had figured out the enlightened way, he tried to save me but I was lost.

A controversial topic

In todays world beauty is looked down upon in the creative world. Instead we praise things that are dramatic, provoking, utilitarian or following some trends.

It almost makes you feel ashamed as a creative person to want to focus on beauty.

“I may be old-fashioned. But I believe there is such a thing as a search for beauty – a delight in the nice things in the world. And I don’t think one should have to apologise for it” – Saul Leiter, famous street photographer

Beauty is not just pretty flowers

In Japan they use the word “Wabi-sabi”, meaning appreciating beauty that is “imperfect”. I like to take photos of perfect beauty (landscape, old classic buildings etc.) but the photos I love the most is the ones I take of ugly or flawed places where you manage to find beauty. Beauty is not only the new, the young, the trendy etc. It can also be in the old and used, the broken and imperfect.

An ugly train station in Nanjing, China. But on this morning it looked beautiful.

Life is flawed and it adds more realism when everything is not perfect in your work. It’s also is more of a challenge. And you can still create thought provoking photos that are beautiful. It’s not my style, but a lot of the old famous street photographer did understand beauty but also managed to crate something thoughtful.

Why does it matter with beauty?

Humans desire beauty, it’s build into us. I think our current culture tries to deny this. You see it in arts where a can of shit is art. Or in architecture with the concreate buildings of the 70’s or the glass boxes of current time. But no matter how much to you try to program humans to dislike beauty our love for it is still there.

Roger Scruton the now dead British philosopher spend his life trying to explain this. I recommend his books and documentary for more thoughts on the subject. This documentary from BBC from 2009 explains it a lot better than I can.