First, people somehow trust words more than pictures. Second, people are very good at picking up on a mismatch between what they read and see.
Thus, writing about your photographs boils down to making sure any mismatch disappears. People will pick up on that mismatch right away. You can try to hide it with art speak or quotes, but people aren’t stupid – they’ll see that you’re trying to get away with something.
- Joerg Colberg, How to write about your photographs
This is good advice, though I don’t agree with everything Joerg says. I’d add that it’s perhaps the wrong approach to think of your statement as writing about photography. If you are going to write, then you must address issues that all writers face – writing a statement is an act of writing pure and simple, so to tie it to your images may be doing it a disservice. People make the mistake of thinking that the writing serves the same function as the image, but it does not. The writer is more present in the text than the photographer in the photo, IMO. It is more of an act of creation and needs direction more than the “found scene” of a photograph taken from reality. Reality speaks mostly for itself, at least as an object, but you can’t just throw any old words together on the page and hope it makes sense. (Is there such a thing as truly found text?) If word is thought, then there may literally need to be more thought behind writing than photographs.
So it comes down to having thoughts worth sharing. But worth is a highly subjective measure, for better and for worse. So when people say you need to have an elevator pitch version of your statement, that’s not really about the words so much as whether you have what your work is about straight in your own head.
Aside from all that, there is my personal opinion, for what is worth: I like writing that explicitly includes the author, where the narrator does not try to hide their own subjective agency. You could call that a process piece, and every process piece really only answers the same series of questions – what were you looking for in the beginning and why does it matter? Did you find it? If so, was it what you expected? If not, what did you find instead? Was that new thing worth anything? (Obviously it was if the project exists…) Throw in stuff you saw along the way to fine tune the point of what you’re saying. The end.
That script makes it almost impossible to resort to goobledegook artspeak or vague meandering, unless of course, your work doesn’t really go very deep, in which case it will be almost impossible to answer those questions at any length.
The caveat is that I’m not particularly proud of my own statements. I suppose all the longform writing I’ve been trying to do in the past year or two has become the process of trying to figure out how to write about my work meaningfully without sounding insincere or highhanded. That process eventually lead to some realizations about the strengths and, more glaringly, weaknesses in my work, which is a real hazard if you commit to the process of writing. Since writing is so dependent on thought, you can write your way into unexpected thoughts and dissatisfaction.
What then? Maybe future projects grow out of that dissatisfaction.