Are you a street photographer looking to write their own artist statement? If so, you are in the right place. Here is how to write your very own, step-by-step. Let’s first ask ourselves…
1. What is an artist statement?
An artist statement is an artist’s description of their work. That can be a single work, a series or their body of work as a whole. It is usually at least a paragraph long and gives the viewer a frame of reference to what they are looking at. Long story short, it describes you, your work or a part of your images.
2. What’s the big deal with artist statements?
Why would you need one anyways? You can be fine without, but sometimes a gallery or more requires one, and even if they didn’t it’s recommended there are multiple reasons why you would want an artist statement as a street photographer:
A. It gives clarity to your work
A statement gives a frame of reference to your viewers and makes sure that your images are not missunderstood. My friend Don for example likes to make shots of people going into flashes of light. This is his “afterlife” series. In that case, the name of the series alone directs your understanding and makes you appreciate what he’s doing. The artists statement answers the question “what am I looking at”? and very importantly…”why should my viewers care?”
B. It gives you clarity about your own work
But that’s not all. In trying to explain what you are doing, you are essentially forced to examine and think about what you are doing. This gives you an even better understanding about you and your work. This is one of the biggest reasons to write an artist statement, to discover yourself as an artist. The artist statement answers the question “what am I about”?
C. It gives background to your images
Imagine your street photography revolves around men with tall hats. Someone might look at it and think you are seeing the shadow of the Grim Reaper everywhere. But then you write that your dad, who passed away always wore tall hats and you are subconsciously drawn to it. This statement not only gives clarity to your work but it also gives pieces of information that people would not known unless they are told. An artist statement answers the question “is there anything special my viewer should know about me or the work?”.
It does not need to be anything grandiose, if a body of images were made in a specific country at a specific time (1970 vs 1980 for example), that goes in the statement. A background info might completely transform how you approach images. Imagine you come to a show and see average images. But then you read the statement and realize the photographer is actually blind. That immediately chances everything, right?
D. It reveals your intent
This is probably the biggest reason for an artist statement, it reveals why you are an artist. It makes things clear and it is where many people will fall in love with you and your work. An artist statement answers the question “Why am I doing what am I doing?”
3. Artist statement mistakes to avoid
Now that we’ve seen what an artist statement is, and why it’s important, let’s get some guidelines out of the way before getting into the steps to write one…
A. Not having anything to say
It should be pretty obvious but I’ll say it anyways. You can only write an artist statement only if your street photography actually had some forethought in it. If you spent your time just shooting haphazardly without any guiding themes, most likely you will draw a blank.
B. Trying to go at it once
It you are not the introspective type, chances are you will not write your statement in one go. You’ve spent years are an artist and you think you’ll be able to put it into words in 5 minutes? Probably not, so donmt have unrealistic expectations. Your task is to DRAFT your artist statement and then thinka nd ponder about it, and then finalize it.
C. Make it about yourself
Here’s a kicker, yes the artist statement is about you, but you shouldn’t make it sound about you. Reduce the amounts of “Me, my, I” and the like to the maximum. “My work is about XYZ, I wanted to ABC. “. How do you write about yourself without making it sound about yourself? You make it about the work.
You focused: My images are about unicorn anacondas. I wanted to….
Work focused: My images are about unicorn anacondas. They show…
D. Not telling a story
Lastly, a huge mistake is not telling your story. It doesn’t need to be anything grandiose, a simple phrase will do. Like ” Bit by a radioactive spider and now uses his powers for good”. People thrive on stories and telling your story is how viewers will remember you. Try to tell a story within your artist statement, what made you want to become a street photographer?
4. Writing your street photography artist statement
Now that we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, it’s time to write.
A. Write your draft
Remember, all you need is a draft with all the pieces in there. So start writing about your work! Here’s some questions to start your brain into high gear:
For me, street photography is all about…
I do street photography this way because…
I am a street photographer because…
My images look this way because…
Street photography makes me feel this way…
My inspiration comes from…
You should know this special info about me….
I started street photography because…
You can also check out this street photography magazine, and read the answers to the interview questions, they will reveal a lot of aspects about your work just by reading. It only takes one well put answer to enlighten your own images.
B. Organize your draft
Once you wrote all of your answers down, organize them. Here’s a general structure that works well:
- General information about you (Name, location, nationality, etc.)
- How you started
- Why you do what you do
In general information, it depends on the purpose of the statement. Some information like nationality might or might not be required, like nationality.
C. Get away from it
Then it’s time for magic to happen. Move away from your draft. And put a deadline for it in a week. That’s right, spill your guts in it first and then move away from it, keeping it at the edge of your conscious mind for a few days. What you are doing here is letting your subconscious mind work on solving this problem of yours. During those days you will get many ideas about yourself, your work,the structure of your statement, etc. Add and polish as you go. Without the deadline your brain will let things off the hook, hence it is crucial to have one, even if it’s not a matter of life and death if you don’t have it written then.
D. Rince and repeat
Do you know that feeling you get when an image is EXACTLY what it was in your mind’s eye? This is the feeling you should get when you read your statement. That is why you need to rinse and repeat bouts of writing and editing until it feels like a complete description of you and your work.
5. What if you are drawing a blank?
There’s 2 reasons if you are drawing a blank. It’s either you have nothing to say about your work, or you just can’t say it. If you have nothing to say about your work, you won’t be able to write a statement, because you shot the images without some forethought. One of the biggest things in street photography is INTENT. To think before you shoot. Check out this street photography course for more info on this.
If you have something but it just won’t come out, write anyways. Write your artist statement anyways even if it sucks, is not exactly what you want to say. The most important thing is to WRITE ANYWAYS. Put it all out, make it all over the place, make it stupid, it doesn’t matter, it just needs to be on paper. And then let it simmer. Your brain won’t work on a blank page, but as soon as it is filled with less than perfect prose, it will do it.
An artist statement is easy to write for street photographers who are introspective. If you are not, some thinking work will have to be done to uncover the core of you and your work. You will have to channel your inner writer, answer the questions that the artist statement answers and write, write write. Then organize and move away from it…then come back to it. This is one of the most tried and true strategies to write your heart out.