On Writing about Photography: Drafting the Artist Statement
Writers would rather write an article or essay than a query letter to an editor to pitch that article or essay. They’d rather write a book than a synopsis. That’s because it often seems to be so much harder to write a one-page query letter than a four-page article. And the same goes for book and its synopsis. Thing is, when we write or work on longer projects, we allow ourselves, our imagination or inspiration to run free. it’s like weaving a fabric, one layer at a time. A query letter is a much, much shorter piece of writing. It not only has to be concise and to the point, but also sell whatever article or essay, or short story for that matter, you want to write. But, like it or not, synopsis, outlines (especially for those writing nonfiction) and query letters come with the job. As a writer and photographer, I should know. And I do know.
So, on the same or at least similar note, when it comes to photography an artist statement is a must. An artist statement is vital in particular when working on a portfolio, and so is an artist bio. But, like writers, photographers would rather photograph, edit and even retouch (if need be) images for their portfolio rather than write the dreaded artist statement. Right?
Writing the artist statement might not be such a painstaking process if we take a closer look at it, at its purpose in our lives as photographers. So, here are my thoughts:
- write an artist statement (and bio) for each body of work, for each portfolio you put together
- artist statement can be short (300 words) or longer (two pages); be ready to show both short and long versions
- in your artist statement talk about sources of inspiration for your work, message and meaning, and share ideas that can only be expressed in words;
- be consistent: the mood and creative voice that comes through in the artist statement should resemble or even match that in the actual body of work
- keep it simple, and yet interesting; make them eager for more, and use the artist statement as an introduction to your work
Here are some ideas from my own work:
When writing a brief artist statement for my Hawaii photo portfolio, I started by trying to remember what and how I felt when I first stepped out of the plane, in Hawaii–“the Aloha air, thick with the warm breeze” and “the clouds and rainbows that painted the sky.” And then I continued by exploring what the islands meant to me, and what this fantastic place has to offer.
Sylt Groynes (Buhnen), Germany. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
While many, especially those living outside Europe, might not be familiar with the island of Sylt, when writing about my Sylt photo portfolio, I started with some facts about this interesting German island: