Make It Human.

In Creativity and Inspiration, Life Is Short, Pep Talks, Vision Is Better by David40 Comments


I don’t imagine there’s much point, this far down the line, in another rant about how photography has become a technocracy, a place where the artifice means more than the art. But is anyone else feeling that all this technical perfection is leaving too little room for the humanity we long for?

“The great challenge of art is not learning to use the tools of our craft, but learning to say something human with them.”

People don’t resonate with perfection, because life isn’t like that. “Perfect” photographs get Liked on Facebook. They get “Great capture, Man.” They do not stir the heart. I’d guess it’s one reason that some of us still love film – the possibility of tactility and imperfection, the reminder present in the grain and the register marks, the odd scratch, of the medium itself and the human being who held the camera. It’s something, for all the good that digital photography makes possible, that we’ve lost.

“This might end up in crying. If you’re not prepared to cry about it, I’m not sure you’re making art. And if you’re not prepared to dance in anticipation, you’re definitely not making art.” ~ Seth Godin

If you want people to listen to your art – your photographs, your writing, your Twitter stream – make it human.

Make me care.

Make me laugh.

Make me cry.

Show me your soul.

Pull up your shirt and show me the scars from your heartbreak.

Tell me a story.

Show me your art and let it move me.

Don’t tell me you got a new lens, that your photograph won an obscure award, or that you just sold a print to some dude in Arizona. When our art becomes a quick piece of “look at me” that cost us nothing – no tears, no fear, no blood – then we’re creating noise, not signal. Little bursts of solipsistic cacophony to which we’re becoming more and more deaf. I think we can do more than say “I was here” with our art. And if that’s the thing you want to say, then do it boldly, go all-in and strip every stitch of clothing off, and stand there naked – in soul if not in body – because if you won’t be vulnerable with your art, we’re not interested. We’ve got too much going on in our own lives. We’ve got noise enough around us without bothering to sift through more unless it’s alive.  The only thing that cuts through that noise are the sounds of the human heart.

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” ~ St. Augustine

Vulnerability is painful. More so for those of us who picked up the camera so we’d have something to hide behind. I get that. But if your art is a gift and you want me to listen to it, read it, feel something by looking at it, then you’ve got to embrace vulnerability as part of the pain and the healing of the creative process. There’s so much noise out there. If you want to be heard, you’ve got to touch me. Human to human.

The great challenge of art is not learning to use the tools of our craft, but learning to say something human with them. The second is learning to be OK with the silence until then.


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  1. Ron Gorchov told me something very profound over a cup of coffee. “That’s the difference between art vs. craft…with art, you know it’s good but you don’t know why. Craft has functionality.”

    I took this to heart, and think about this a lot. I am a commercial photographer in NYC, so not all gigs can be a bold statement of my inner depths of my soul…but that soul will get me the jobs. It’s a balance, and the competition can kick my ass, too.

    This is a nice piece David, a nod at the industry and where the artists vs. craftsman fit in.

    Thank you!

  2. Hi David,

    Some word from Stone Town. It seems you are looking inside and put it in your blog you become Vulnerable sharing things from the ” deep ” inside. Connecting your deep inside with your which to create art hoping your art find Recognition with the or your public on line, in book or gallery that’s a difficult road. Modesty is the mind set you need on that road and in my opinion not a camera strap with big names on it no hiding behind big lenses. I find out that most participants we walk with in our tour who carry a zoom some times even a big one when I ask why they carry that heavy thing. They admit they are shy to come close to the people they want to photograph so much. The most are afraid be be vulnerability coming close to the subject they want to steal from the world, there is a lesson to learn to create more work reflecting the personal ” deep “. And in my humble opinion the words of Robert Frank “ The eye should learn to listen before it looks. ” is way to discover your personal ” deep ” or soul.

    Warm regards Hans

    1. I agree with your comments. I am new to photography and have had to learn to approach people. I am so surprised by the number of people who smile and love to be approached! I carry both a 18-55 and 75-300 zoom lenses (newbie and they came with the kit) and I find myself using the 75-300 for more portraits of people, it seems to flatter them more. I use the other lens when I want to include more of the background in the scene. When asked what I was trying to capture in my photographs, along with whatever image I always say I want to leave a piece of me, a vision into my soul for people to see

      1. “I want to leave a piece of me, a vision into my soul for people to see” – a delightful motto, eloquently composed 

  3. Thanks for your post David. Your words are wonderful and very important to the process. The longer I have been making images the more I realize that it is difficult to make an outstanding image that has a story and generates a feeling in my viewers. Photography is wonderful in that you are constantly working to improve the craft.

  4. I both love this idea and struggle with it immensely. I keep picking up my camera hoping I can find a way to make it capture the thoughts in my head.
    Most of the photos I share fall short of what I want them to convey.

    It’s like I see this scene in front of me, that scene is beautiful, this person is beautiful – it’s funny, or maybe the stillness of that moment is almost overwhelming; COOL, I’ll take a picture. Even after all these years. Even after tens and hundreds of thousands of frames – the image feels plastic and hollow. It’s not that the picture isn’t good, it is, it’s just not as ‘full’ as I’d like it to be.

    1. Author

      Doug, I think you’re bumping up against the reality of art. Our vision always outpaces our ability to capture it, even when we do it all right and the photograph works beautifully for others, as the artist we’ll almost always be conscious of the gaps between what we wanted and what we created. On the plus side I think that is one of the flames that keeps u moving forward. 🙂

  5. Hello David

    While my site draws a lot of attention due to my Fuji reviews, I have a section I am building that are hopefully “make it human” called unacquainted

    It is people I meet along the way and try post a little bit about them.

    Some have worked and some have not, there are times I more nervous than others, as I am terrible writer, but I am learning as I post more and more.

    Reading this post of yours makes me just want to do it more and more

    Thank you for keep in me on track 🙂


    1. Author

      Right on, Neill. Keep at it. It’s in the learning and doing the things we’re scared of that the real discovery takes place. I’m excited for you.

  6. Pingback: Make It Human | David duChemin › By TOMEN

  7. Pingback: Make It Human. | onyonet photo studios

  8. You are correct David. The feeling has to come from the artist. I agree with most of what you’ve said here, but I don’t believe “all this technical perfection is leaving too little room for the humanity we long for.” “Going digital” has allowed me to bring out the feeling and the artistry I could not create with film because I couldn’t afford a dark room setup.

    For those who are creating “noise”, maybe the just haven’t found their voice yet. Maybe they’re not looking. But if they are looking, it is up to those of us who are screaming with our vision to help them find their way, like I hope sharing your editorial will do. I had been screaming at the top of my vision believing nobody was listening, but screaming just the same. Then one day I read a something from an artist that felt like he had literally pulled the words right out of my soul (yes, it was you). The emotion poured out of me and inspired me to keep screaming. I knew I was no longer alone and perhaps my screaming might in turn help another artist. The journey never ends and I’m still peeling back the layers of clothing and I hope there is always something more under each layer that inspires me to strip that layer too.

    So I’ll take the “Great capture, Man.” comments. It’s this type of comment that inspired me to creating my tag line “Don’t capture images. Create photographs”. My hope is that simple thought might inspire someone to go beyond creating noise, to look beyond the “capture”, and to find a way to “Make It Human”.

  9. Thanks, man!
    This is just what I needed.

    I know you are right. I know that I only respond to stuff that’s honest, true and raw. But everytime I write a blogpost, I start writing in that strange formal language that isn’t mine.

  10. Thank you

    nothing less than what I have come to expect from you David, you provide me with reminders of what and why I love to photograph, as well as reminders of what is important in life.

  11. Hey David,

    Films are at the lab…. Will send you a print 🙂



  12. Thx for the post David. I just picked up Humans of New York and I can’t put it down. It’s so compelling because of its humanity. One portrait in particular stopped me: a close up headshot of a homeless man with his words (paraphrasing) that he too has a dream. He wants to go fishing.
    The concept for the project was so simple and yet it was true and it resonates.

  13. You are on a roll, David. I’ll bet you’re healing fast, too!
    As Lindsey Buckingham said (of music, but I think it holds for all arts), we don’t need high-tech, we need high-touch.
    To improve my photography, instead more gear, I just bought a ticket to hear Estrella Morente perform. You’ve got feed the fire with seasoned wood, not green sticks…

  14. I am new to photography- in fact the only reason I picked up a camera in the first place was to draw inspiration for my paintings, I never expected to show them to anyone or even have anyone like them. When asked what inspires me, I always answer the world around me. It leaves me in awe, all the beauty we pass by everyday; whether it’s a grain of sand, a leaf covered with raindrops or an abandoned bird nest. I want others to look at the most humble things and be struck by their simplicity and beauty. I also say that if you see my work, you see my soul- I put it all out there, I don’t hold anything back and I think that is why I get so emotional about my creations or when I see a piece from someone else that touches me and makes me feel like I can feel their presence in the piece.

  15. Hey David,

    Just back from Venice. Re-read your life’s short post. Man are you one talented individual! Beautiful words my friend, just beautiful….

    Your words and photos continue to inspire! Speedy recovery.



  16. I find it super difficult to be vulnerable myself but I do enjoy others that are. I’ve made serious progress over the past month to trim down all my email subscriptions, rss feeds, twitter followings and facebook pages that are mostly noise. I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

    1. Author

      We all find it difficult to be vulnerable. I’m suspicious of anyone to whom it comes easy. High risk, high reward, my friend. 🙂

  17. A powerful piece of writing indeed David, a joy to read. I share your thoughts about the emotive journey of photography.

    Taking time to absorb the quintessential essence of a place, be it wild or urban ,will have the potential to spark in us an emotive or visceral response. The soulful reaction has the power to enable us to photograph an ‘experience’ – rather than just produce a documentary record of time/space/place.

    My favourite images have been ones I have made in a remote nature reserve in Dartmoor National Park. I have been incredibly lucky to get a permit for the site and have had the opportunities to immerse myself, alone, in 120 acres of ancient woodland. The raw nature of the place.. it’s vastness, the beguiling landscape; the sense of being truly alone in a huge place were humbling, fascinating, eerie and deeply inspiring. Those journeys in particular were truly visceral, I have tried in a couple of articles to express what these woods are like but sometimes words aren’t enough. Though my desire to TRY and share the atmosphere of this place that precious few will ever get to see however is not dimmed.

    “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.”
    Paul Cezanne

  18. Wonderful!!! I’m in the midst of Photographically Speaking and its wonderful!!! I can only read it in small bursts because I have to soak it in. We are traveling a lot lately (living in Italy) and its so hard for me me, being an introvert, to ask people if I can take their photo. Even though the few times I have they say yes and are so happy to have someone ask. Of course, those are my favorite photos.

  19. David: Another great post. The image on top… taken in Ethiopia?

  20. As a photographer that has “grown up on social media”, I am very appreciative that I also paid attention to the writing and work of a couple people, of which you are included David 🙂

    The internet and social media has been a big factor in how fast I have been able to learn the nuts-and-bolts of producing images, but as I have progressed in my journey, I see that it takes much more than that to make anything lasting. In my quest to make different/better//etc… pictures to share, I have to “turn the volume down” on those distractions so that I can hear and see the more subtle and meaningful (at least to me) things that I wish to convey. Thank you for all the inspiration!


  21. Firstly, that a wonderful image.

    Secondly, I know my equipment pretty well, i know post production software quite well. However, if you were to ask me what I use to create my images with, I would always say “my heart.”
    I “see” my images with my heart before I even activate the shutter. You will never see an image of mine if it doesn’t touch me personally.
    I love this world, and all it’s creatures, though some frighten me at times, especially some humans. Never the less, it’s my desire to show the beauty and variety all around us, so David, all I can say is ,”I hear you.”
    I grow so weary of all the so called photography rags and sites that spend most of their time and space pushing the latest gear. We all need gear, but what’s the point without the vision and passion?
    Excuse me going on…. but you touched a nerve. 😉

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