Samm Blake: The Art Of Emotion

The most important thing to understand when discussing the photography of Samm Blake is that she’s not particularly interested in how photographs are made. Instead, she’s concerned fundamentally with why photographs are made. This philosophy, one that keeps technique utterly subservient to content, was instilled in her at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. Born and raised in Australia, as a photojournalism student with an interest in fine art, she says she wasn’t taught technique. Or, at least, if it was taught, she didn’t pay it much attention.

"I find a lot of photography schools teach the ‘how to take photographs,’" says Blake, "but not actually ‘why’ you would take a photograph. In some schools, people come out very technically proficient, but they take the most boring photos because they’re disconnected from the art side of creating the work. To have emotive content rather than a technically perfect exposure—that’s a huge way I shoot. It’s a very emotional response to how I’m feeling at a wedding. I go into it completely with no expectations, no idea of what the wedding is going to be. I don’t like to previsualize anything, and that’s why it’s a completely emotive reaction to whatever is happening in front of me."

It’s not that Blake is technically agnostic. In fact, the photographer, now based in New York, is very deliberate with both her in-camera choices and her postprocessing editing. She selects tools and techniques based on the look she wants to achieve—a look that’s dictated by the content rather than a desire to show off her technical proficiency.

"I find what makes an image awesome is when there are things imperfect about it at the same time," she says. "I feel like spending too much time creating the technically perfect image, emotion isn’t shown on the bride’s face because she’s bored and fed up. I work very quickly to get shots and then I get the shot and move on. If I was using anything other than the two cameras I have, it would produce a completely different result that I wouldn’t want. I basically shoot a whole day on 55mm and 35mm lenses."

Blake carries two camera bodies, and says those normal and wide-angle lenses stay on 80% of the time. She’ll switch to a 24mm or 85mm lens on occasion, too.

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