What’s in a Photo?

Photography | By Michele Fortmann, Photographer | 21 November 2014
PHOTO: © Michele Fortmann

I think the incredible thing about Zimbabwe is that there is a great pioneering spirit when it comes to art and culture here. 

What is great is we have so much area for growth and an incredible foundation to start building on.  I love the fact that we have no specific set of rules or an industry that dictates how we must think. Zimbabwe is an incredibly exciting place to be at the moment, we have so much potential and artists in all areas, are so hungry to learn, grow and achieve their dreams!
I am a bit like this too, I ‘feel’ photography, I don’t have a set of rules and if anything I strive to break every rule in the book when it comes to photography.  I have a completely ‘out of the box’ approach and am not scared to try new things.

I love living on the edge and believe I have got where I am because I have no fear or limitations in my life.  If we do not live life to the maximum and feel every emotion there is, how can we expect to take great images!  I feel every emotion and moment that passes through my lens. It is an expression of what I am seeing.  I think this is where a lot of photographers get it wrong, photography is so much more than just capturing an image. It is looking into someone’s soul and seeing a piece of them that no one else has seen.  People are vulnerable in front of the camera and the reason is because you are staring into their soul and capturing something incredible, something intangible.
Just recently I did a shoot for a woman who I admire and think is an incredible creative. What was incredible is that after the shoot she crumbled and admitted to me that what I had done for her in one session of shooting was more than 10 years of therapy! I was absolutely blown away and felt so honoured that in that small time in front of the lens, she had found a piece of herself and reconnected with who she was; found an inner confidence and strength she never knew existed. By being vulnerable and opening herself up to me through my lens she had found herself again after so many years.  That is what cannot be taught to anyone… photography is an incredible form of art and goes so much deeper than what people think of it on the surface.

The passion I feel for what I do, is something so deep and spiritual there are no words that can really express what it is that I feel when I pick up my camera and start to capture emotions, feelings, unseen moments, light, form and colour. It is a bit like an artist with a palette of colours and a blank white canvas; as they start to paint there is a piece of them that extends through that brush to that blank white canvas and what you see in a painting is an expression and extension of that artist.  There is a little piece of them in their painting, there is emotion in the brush stroke and energy in the colours and when you the viewer looks at that painting, you don’t just see a painting you feel that painting without realizing it… that is the same with a photo, you are feeling what that photographer captured at that moment. This applies to all areas of photography from photojournalism where you are feeling real everyday life – pain, suffering, and elation, joy to the fashion photographer that has captured emotion in the eyes, colour, a mood, expression and energy that occurred at that exact moment when they felt the moment and clicked that shutter! That moment when I feel it is the right moment to push that shutter is not something tangible I can explain, it is just a split second when I see that emotion in the eyes that I am looking for, when the energy of that moment is just right, it all just comes together and in that split second…’click’… a moment is captured and when you the viewer looks at it, without realizing it you are ‘feeling’ everything that occurred in that split second. 

The power of an image to move a person to tears or feelings of happiness is incredible.  An image can invoke a whole series of emotions.  We become voyeurs on a journey, getting transported to a moment in time, reliving everything that was captured in that split second the photographer ‘felt’ the moment and pressed that shutter. A still image, is so much more. The word ‘still’ just doesn’t do justice to what a photo really is.

Photos are alive and have an energy that cannot be explained.

The other incredible thing is that those moments will live on forever. They say the memories that stay most vivid in our minds are the ones captured as photos!  History lives on through a click of a shutter….  Quite a thought isn’t it?

I feel so privileged to not only do something I love and am so passionate about but that I also get to be a maker of history in all spheres of people’s lives. My images will live on long after I leave this earth and generations to come will one day look back in amazement to a time gone by, feeling that little whisper of wind, tasting the dust in the air, feeling the emotion of the moment, the energy of a time gone by, transported back in time for a brief second. How magical is that!

I hope when you read this piece, you will feel a little bit of that magic that I am talking about; that you will take away a little of my enthusiasm for life and that you too will follow your dreams and live life on the edge.

Thank you for joining me on this little journey of inspiration.

In a world where visual stimulation is on the rise, we almost have an overload of visual stimulation.  With social media platforms, we find ourselves looking through thousands of images at a time.  The digital age has changed the face of photography, allowing photographers the ability to shoot so much more than we did when we used film.  Plus we now have a much more complex post-production process, which brings in another whole creative dimension.  When I edit it is a very personal part of my journey of an image and something I feel the need to do myself.  No one else looking at that image can edit it how I will, as they won’t understand the moment, the relationship, the feeling I was trying to capture… there are so many elements. 
I have been working on a photo essay on the old age homes in Zimbabwe and the incredible old souls that are in them, some of them abandoned by their families, others that still have such incredible support and also the amazing teams of people that work so tirelessly behind the scenes.  I took some images a little while ago, the idea behind that imagery can be so thought provoking, the strength of an image.