Imagineering Methods for Theme Creation

On this Wednesday morning coming down, I know two things:
You can study fine art photography or
You can create a fine art study with photography.

The first is useful for creating fine art and engages the brain to consider theory, history, message, critique, and understanding.

The second is doing fine art, which engages the heart, our beliefs, fears, emotional range, and the physical doing of making fine art photography.

The fine art photographer needs to study and create studies.

Cokeville Pride_0001-Edit
American Pride
Cokeville, Utah

As a fine art photography instructor, I engage students to learn the first, teach them the tools and processes to create the second, point them to other voices for input and guidance, and encourage them to overcome their fears so that they can produce a body of work. As a fine art maker, I am constantly learning about the first so that I can make fine art studies that extend the range of my beliefs, stir my fears, and deliver an emotional range that stimulates my audience.

John Szarkowski made the claim that most people who have produced lasting images in the history of photography have dealt with aspects of their everyday life. These are things they know, things that stir their passions. In most cases, it is not about subject, but feelings for or against the subject. Those emotional ties, translated into images, create a theme.

Unlike photojournalism and commercial photography, Fine Art Photography is thematic and explores social issues, graphic dislocation, subliminal thought, duality, reality, surrealism, impressionism, and is a genre that may be documentary or a Vision beyond Record. Fine Art drives new perspectives, it is a space where provocation and peace collide and the tension between hue and contrast often vibrate. Fine Art can be delicate, nuanced, and shift a viewer’s worldview ever so slightly or it can be bold and ‘rock ‘n roll’ your audience with ‘in your face’ passion, but it is never neutral.

That description of fine art photography may sound intellectually deep and filled with mystery. However, it is not a mystery and it does not require great native talent. In fact, fine art photography is an intimate, human activity, filled with all the dangers, recognition, remuneration, success, and failure that accompanies any creative effort.

On this blog, you will find several articles about themes (, Feedback from readers and colleagues who work in the genre tell me that they are helpful and inspiring. However, while those discussions define themes, how we seek or search for themes, they do not give the fine art practitioner a systemic method for creating engaging themes.  Each artist will develop their own practice and methods over time, but in the beginning, all of us study with and about those that have gone before us, while capturing images and learning post-production techniques.

As a teacher, I’ve seen photographers new to this genre, struggle, study, shoot, work, fail, and try again. The majority succeed. From these, hundreds of students and thousands of hours of work on my own projects as well as countless hours of study, I find that creating a theme is a challenging task for most of us.  But there is a logical, measurable method that is teachable and adaptable to the internal make up of current and future artists.

In blogs that will follow, I will dig into the Imagineering Methods, tools, and techniques that will help you create and explore themes. This series of weekly, bite-sized articles, can help the part-time, fine art creators (weekend artists) who do not support themselves with their art (yet), as well as those artists whose creative juices are near empty and need to refill their creative tanks.

We will begin with the next blog. The subject is— “Subject”.

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2 thoughts on “Imagineering Methods for Theme Creation

  1. Thanks for this post, Bob. You must’ve been reading my mind. I’m still working on the project I started when we were together in Los Angeles, and continuing to struggle with making a coherent theme apparent in the work. Your blog always helps me engage new directions, and new ways of looking at things. Thanks!

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