Repost: What influences your photography?

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Hanoi. Nikon D700, 85/1.4G

What follows is a repost of an original article from early 2012: it’s a necessary prelude to what comes tomorrow, so for those who’ve read it – bear with me; for those who haven’t, enjoy.

A random thought struck me while driving today (it seems to happen often, but then again with Malaysian traffic, I do spend a lot of time in the car): what are my conscious and unconscious photographic influences, and how do they affect my images look?

I think this is a topic worth exploring because it’s useful to analyze how you think as a photographer, because it will both consciously help you to identify potential shots sooner, as well as tap into other sources of influence you might not have previously considered. As sacrificial guinea pig, I’ll go first.

1. Cinema.
I love dramatic lighting, shots with huge expanses and a small bit of human context, tight crops, 16:9 and wider aspect ratios, creamy smooth foreground (contextual?) and background bokeh, spectacular lens flare, and facial emotion. And let’s not forget the influence of color tone, too. It’s all about setting a mood or feeling for the image, rather than conveying a specific story. But it’s easy to get too carried away; a close shot of a facial expression might work in cinema because you’ve got the establishing shots before and after to give context; there’s a flow of events that requires that one detail element to be complete. If you don’t have enough background context, a standalone still is rather weak and hard to place. Where I find the cinematic style does work very well is when you’ve got a series or sequence of images.

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Surprise at goodbye, London. Leica M8, 35/2 ASPH

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Loiterers, London. Leica M8, Zeiss ZM 21/2.8

2. Classical photojournalism.
There’s power in emotion here; criticality of timing; and frequently, only monochromatic, moody images because technology of the time couldn’t do better. You exposed for the subject and let the rest of the tonal range fall wherever it might. I’m avoiding the look because I prefer the cinematic feeling, but not the critical principles.

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You’ve probably seen this shot before – it’s one of my all time favorites, and my interpretation of a Salgado.
The scavenger, Canacona Beach, Goa, India. Leica M8, 50/1.4 ASPH

3. Sebastiao Salgado.
Salgado’s work is characterized by emotion, location, and wonderful tonal processing; in some ways he showed the world what HDR was by dodging and burning away in the darkroom long before digital. And not to mention, he didn’t overdo it or make it unnatural. If only he’d used color once or twice.

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Perhaps what Ansel might have shot today, if he were still alive. City Hall, London. Leica M8, Zeiss ZM 21/2.8

4. Ansel Adams.
If you’re looking for technical perfection in an image, Ansel comes pretty darn close. Large formats. Tripods. Super fine grained films, and optimal developers; platinum and selenium toning. It’s the equivalent of shooting raw with a medium format digital camera at optimal apertures and individually adjusting each image in the RAW converter before printing it off a RIP-optimized 16 bit TIFF from a printer with, oh, I don’t know, say 16 different ink tanks. But it looks spectacular.

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In Rothko we Rust (complete with signature). Jaya Shipyard, Singapore. Panasonic TZ3

5. Rothko.
The modernist abstract painter isn’t somebody I’ve consciously followed; I’ve seen his paintings here and there, but it’s the simple geometry of color and strength of line that makes his compositions compelling. Lately I’ve been shooting quite a lot of architectural abstracts where this dominates; it’s not a style that works all the time though, because it’s heavily subject-driven.

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I have a huge white soft spot for clouds. Leica V-Lux 3

6. Rene Magritte.
It’s the low-angled evening light and the clouds. They get me every time. There’s nothing more to say, really.

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Inspection tour, Jaya Shipyard, Singapore. Ricoh GR-Digital I

7. Alex Majoli.
Early on, Majoli was noted for using only a brace of compact cameras to document and nothing else – his style is dark and moody; perhaps a reflection of his personality, or more likely a way of overcoming the limitations of the equipment by exposing only for the highlights (first ensuring the subject is in the highlight zone, of course) then disregarding the rest. He taught me two things: firstly, there are workarounds to every equipment limitation that might actually yield very interesting results; secondly, if the composition is strong enough, you don’t need to rely on extreme perspective or bokeh as a crutch.

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Mount Yotei wears a hat, Hokkaido, Japan. Nikon D700, Zeiss 2/100 Makro-Planar

8. Hiroshige.
He makes me see things in layers – and not in the photoshop kind of way.

9. Dr. House.
A character from a TV series? Yes. My wife often tells me I’m very much like him: morose, intense, slightly damaged, and very, very focused on getting it right – usually at the expense of other things. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. When I’m shooting, I go into the zone and everything else becomes peripheral; you notice a lot of small details that normally pass you by. I think pushing yourself, pushing your creativity, trying new things, and seeking tangential inspiration are precisely what keeps things moving. The problem, unfortunately, is convincing your clients.

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I believe it’s called a chocolate dial. Jaeger Le-Coultre Master Ultra Thin 1833. Nikon D700, 60/2.8 G Micro.

10. My subject.
As obvious as this seems, I think it’s either second nature or ignored. If you’re conscious of your subject, you’re probably going to try and present it in a natural looking way. Or maybe an unnatural contextual juxtaposition, if discordant photography is your style. I think either is fine – and I do both. The former when I’m trying to encapsulate a story in a moment; I try to look for all of the elements to put into the same frame. The latter when I’m trying to be ironic, or when the story itself is in the juxtaposition.

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I can’t figure out why, but shots like this seem to be acceptable with an iPhone – maybe it’s a property of the medium. Also, I smell a little Magritte on the wind here.

11. My equipment.
I’m not afraid to admit that different gear makes me shoot differently: there are some things you can do with certain cameras that you can’t with others. I’ll never attempt all-in-focus compressed perspectives with an SLR, because I know you just can’t do it without running out of DOF (or shutter speed as a consequence of stopping down for more DOF). But you can very easily do it with a compact superzoom, because 300mm equivalent is really something like 50mm and at f5.6 and nearly infinity, it’s all going to be in focus anyway. Or, the opposite – shallow DOF cinematic wide-angle work with a compact. Different tools for different things – and I’ll pick my tool depending on both what I anticipate shooting, and the style I want to try out on the day. I’ve shot an entire job for a shipyard client on the compact Panasonic TZ3; they thought I was using the D2H and 70-200/2.8 slung over my shoulder. In reality, I managed to produce work that I never could have done with the SLR – and they were very happy with the result.

Have you figured out what influences the way you shoot? MT

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Comments

  1. Hello Ming, are you by any chance a fan of the movies shot by Wong Kar Wai, especially In the Mood for Love and 2046 filmed by cinemaphotographer Christopher Doyle?

  2. I want the Leica! Takes such crisp images

  3. shfoong says:

    I wonder how “using a better camera would automatically have made a better photograph”. The camera, the Nikon D700 with the 85mm f1.4G, you used at that time was aready one of the best.

    Overall, I like the “Surprise at goodbye, London” shot. The enviroment, the moment, the lighting and the B&W treatment made the shot. It will be a classic if it is not already is. Do you think the type of camera and lens has played a more importsnt role than the photographer and the opportunity of the moment?

  4. Michael Matthews says:

    Re the photo up top: now THAT is cinematic! Too bad it was done three years ago with a camera which is now five years old. Can’t possibly be good.

  5. It influences my photography the most then I leave my cam hanging by my side instead of bringing it to my eye.
    It motivates me to visualize my shot in advance. I visualize different framings, distances, color or black ‘n’ white.
    What would it be like if I stand on the opposite site of my motif? I struggle the most with visualizing the impact of the bokeh.

    I used to do highly realistic pencil drawings as well as pen and ink drawings. This has trained my eye to see what is important in a picture. You simply can’t compete with a blunt pencil tip against a Leica lens MTF50 or 16bit RAWs.

    Stefan

    • I wish I could draw. I think it takes a very different level of creativity to envision and execute something entirely from scratch – the pencil – vs trying to capture or frame what’s already there. I suppose it’s like the difference between 100% controlled studio-still life and random travel snaps…

      • I’ve thought about this too, and I wonder if drawing is perhaps both easier and harder than photography, and vice versa. :)
        With drawing, it might be harder to envision a scene entirely from scratch, but it might be easier to get it the way you want once you have something to work towards.
        With photography, it might be easier to see something that is already there, recognize its potential, and capture it, but it might be harder to get it the way you want. I thought I saw an example of this in one of your recent articles, but can’t find it now. I think it was of a “back-alley” street and you waited for the right person to appear to complete the image, but that didn’t happen.

        I guess at this point someone could say, photographer, meet photoshop. :p

  6. great post, Ming. Really great….too bad you were not in Los Angeles Saturday night for Salgado’s opening, as you most definitely would have been inspired. I am taking a roadtrip tomorrow. With ONLY my Sony Rx1oo. No film as , well, airports and very hot weather , and…. I really do not want to carry anything over one pound.It will be an excercise in discipline. And if the gear doesn’t match up to the vistas…I will just rely on the memory card I was born with….thanks, again, Jeffrey

    • Aargh…there seem to be shows all over the world, but nothing remotely close to where I am. Ah well. I live in an artistic desert.

      You should be fine with the RX100, especially since you’ve got plenty of light to work with.

  7. Interesting that Ansel Adams is still a fixture – I always strongly preferred Edward Weston for the his sensuality and comparative warmth and his ability to create a print that itself had a strong independent life as an object as well as being a picture of something. The other I’d mention is Stieglitz who for some reason – complex use of space perhaps – reminds me of Ming’s work. Any yes. Magritte! He is always somewhere in my visual imagination, along with Mondrian when I shoot sky scrapers. Wonderful post bringing out the way our visual memory influences our work. It must be good – it makes me want to shoot more. Thanks.

    • Agreed – Ansel is somewhat cold compared to Weston, but I always got the feeling there was a bit more control and precision in Adams’ work…

  8. Definitely Elliott Erwitt – and Irving Penn, for me. I love your stuff, Ming, and really appreciate the work you do to encourage aspiring photographers to think about what they’re doing – but your style is very much your own!

    • Thanks. My own style is a consequence of examining and evolving from the influences I listed…plus limitations/ opportunities that are local or specific to me…

  9. I’m probably the oddball out on this site when I say David LaChapelle. His style is really rather different from yours, as well as most other images I see in the reader pool. It is my ultimate dream to create something like his, and yet different so you can see it’s me and not him.
    But at what skill level do you have to be before you can be influenced? Because while I want to make images like his I have no idea how to approach that (other than to start a lot simpler), and therefore, my current images aren’t the ones I want to be making…

    • I don’t think there are any restrictions to when you can start being influenced – you may not have sufficient skill to replicate entirely at will, but I imagine you’d certainly recognize opportunities if they arose.

  10. shfoong says:

    Artistic vision is the word. Simple but not many people have it.

    • That’s because it’s easier to buy the same gear as those you admire in the mistaken belief that it will be sufficient to bridge the gap :)

  11. shfoong says:

    Ming, since I came to know you at she Olympus 75mm f/1.8 launch event last year at Lot 10, I have enjoyed your style and interpretation on photography,

    You are absolutely right in your conclusion on this article. There are many factors that will influence one s photography – other photographers, painters and sometimes even the camera itself.

    Many snobs will discount point and shoot cameras but sometimes they have certain capabilities that even a Pro DSLR can’t do. Afterall, all cameras are just tools to get the job done, in this case getting the image. In some cases, the humble handphone can perform better.

    Looking forward to more revelations.

  12. Nice comments so far….I like what Vic Muniz said ” The objective of a photograph is NOT merely a portrayal of a subject, but the image symbolic and emotional assotiations the formal treatment of a subject will bring to the viewer.”….so sometimes all the clever uncles on the net who are savvy about cameras and software using the best equipment are very poor artist…regarding their images…

  13. Ming, posts like this are the reason this is one of the best photography websites on the internet. Majoli might be the most important photographer today — he showed his colleagues (who at first ridiculed him for his decision to shoot major assignments with a point and shoot) and the rest of us how equipment matters — but how skill and vision matter more.

    Regarding cinematography, I had the unique opportunity to study with filmmaker Spike Lee for a semester — his cinematographer, Ernest Dickerson, is considered one of the very best. His way of seeing and composing a scene is worth exploring for every serious photographer.

    Finally, check out filmmakers Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) and Sergio Leone — two additional masters of image making.

    • Thanks James. Wasn’t very popular the first time around, but hey…

      Majoli was a serious influence on me to the extent that he demonstrated the gear really doesn’t matter – and if you know what you’re doing, you can compose and shoot to make the strengths of your equipment shine in the images, too.

      How could I forget Kurosawa?

    • Tom Liles says:

      Ok I can’t resist anymore: James that is AMAZING. I’ll always love Spike Lee for his confrontational ending in DO THE RIGHT THING [maybe it's not such a thing now, but people in my immediate vicinity growing up just couldn't, they just couldn't, understand why Sal's pizza place getting burned to the ground was not an injustice. I still think about it now: was it? was it not?].
      I’ll always love him for the gliding moment in MALCOLM X, that transcendental drive, acted by DW without one single word, from hotel to rally [where Malcolm knows his brother is going to strike him down], set to Sam Cooke’s A Change’s Gonna Come. Automatic entry into the pantheon for that one. We love Spike for his insistence on the shot where he puts the actor on a trolley or something, up in close for a head shot, and rolls them along as though their walking just became levitating. It doesn’t really ever work; but he always does it, and we love him for it. We don’t love him for always trying to cram too many story lines in: the Milla Jovovich character and sub-plot in HE GOT GAME was a complete waste of screen time—the list goes on and on, and on. Anyway, wow. That’s a real privilege to have been able to do that.

      Cinematographers. I cold literally write a thousand words on this, but since we’re going for hugely famous and well-known and no one earth could ever in a million years argue types like Kurosawa, etc., then please allow me to humbly present to the gallery:

      DANTE SPINOTTI

      This guy is my idol [among others!]. I saw a Michael Mann film called MANHUNTER when I was about 13. Too young for it and it scarred me for life—in a good way. I’ve been a hopeless Michael Mann guy ever since; but it was the film more than the director that did something to me. It stayed with me forever, and when I started to become interested in the films themselves, interested in more than the lead actor, or at the next level who the director was—I just had to know who decided on the look of that film that affected me so way back when. Enter the Dante. Michael Mann uses him for nearly all his films, and I haven’t known him to do anything I haven’t really liked so far.

      Now for some less obvious choices [but perhaps not so contentious; I'm not a film studies student and don't know any of the theory, all my picks could be straight down the middle, cliche ones]

      AMIR MOKRI

      DARIUSZ WOLSKI

      GARRY B KIBBE

      ALEX THOMPSON

      DAVID EGGBY

      I could just keep going…

  14. I’ve been buying a lot of monographs lately and those have had a big influence on me. Three of my favorites are Ray Metzger, Bill Brandt, and Saul Leiter. I usually don’t go out and try to emulate their styles, but I notice scenes that fit their styles when I am out. Last week in Chicago, 2 million people (police estimate–I doubt it) were out celebrating the Stanley Cup victory. I went downtown to photograph the crowds, but was struck by the light and absence of cars. Here is what I call a Saul Leiter style photograph that I enjoyed making, but it probably is not compressed enough. http://www.sanyasi-aesthetic.com/p219143937/h6bfd1e7e#h6bfd1e7e. In any event, I am now looking for his shots. I find it fun to play with these influences.

    Best

    Jack Siegel

    • Interesting…presumably film? With digital, the blacks would be pure black.

      • Nope. Digital–M(240). I read an interview with Leiter where he said he bought outdated film because he liked the unpredictable color shifts. I have been doing research on Photoshop to see if there is some way to simulate color shifts. In the meantime, I have Nik software’s Color Efex 4, which has a filter called Film: Modern. You can choose about three or four dozen different films. In that same interview, Leiter mentioned Kodak Ektachrome, so first I adjusted the contrast, second I applied the Ektachrome filter, and just to see what would happen I applied a mild cross processing filter–I am not a film person, so I don’t know what that means in the real world, but I had experimented with it before as I explored all the filters and recalled that it did a little desaturating. So that is how I got to where I got. A bit unusual for me, because I tend to post process to bring things out in a photo rather than to drastically alter it. Now having tried that combo on a number of photos, I find the effect is best with green and yellow. I don’t like the impact on red. It also seems to work best on “landscapes or cityscapes” rather than on photos where one individual is the main subject.

        What I am waiting for is rain and a glass bus shelter.

        By the way, my go to photo monograph publisher these days is Steidl- http://www.steidl.de. They are publishing a 2-volume set of Leiter’s black and white photos sometime in September. I picked up a nice set of Bruce Davidson books, who is really great. so if you are unfamiliar with the publisher, check them out.

        Best

        Jack Siegel

        • Interesting…I prefer to have full control over my tonal output, so I don’t use filters.

          Steidl is great – but expensive – and completely not available where I live :(

  15. The strongest influence on my photography is emotion and whim. I see something, I feel something and then I shoot. There is a South African gal who got me to broaden my subject matter and drop a few bad habits, and a fine art landscape photographer who taught me how to do B&W conversions. As for the masters, probably Garry Winogrand and HCB. Gear not so much, because if it becomes a limitation I get something that works better, that’s it.

    A very good read above, Ming.

  16. Jorge Balarin says:

    Great article Ming. It was nice to read it again.

  17. Sergey Landesman says:

    Very interesting article indeed.Elliot Erwitt, Richard Avedon and one of my favorite is Jeanloup Sieff influence my photography.
    And there is Ming Thein.
    Thank you,Ming!

  18. Reblogged this on huluneger.

  19. For me a key influencer is Saul Leiter. I discovered Leiter after I discovered my photographic style. But when I saw his work I realized immediately that I loved it. And I realized that some of my work bears some similarity to his. Of course he is much much better than me. Perhaps it is because I love color imagery that I relate to him. But I am always surprised that others do not feel the same way.

    I like your suggestion that Hiroshige influences you. He is something of a hero of mine. I would not say that he has been much of an influence on me photographically – I had not considered this but perhaps that will change. The way he captures a scene with a few characters and a few deft strokes is wonderful.

    Perhaps what influences me most though is the need to interpret. So many photographers who inhabit the forums I visit see themselves as rapporters. They want images to be raw and real and their lenses to be technically brilliant. But I love to interpret and to look for the beauty in the everyday. Especially in the reflections and distortions that come from shooting through windows and making those elements become part of the story I am telling. In other words I think of myself more as an artist.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/life_in_shadows/sets/72157630980133928/

    • Saul’s work is fantastic; very painterly. – I’d completely forgotten about him. Then again, I don’t think I take much influence there – one can certainly appreciate other artwork without having to take something away from it, though.

  20. I think HCB and Ansel Adams are almost “givens” …its like people answering “what is the most important thing in your life” and they don’t mention air and water!

    I think as my comfort with photographic fundamentals progresses, my ability to answer this question increases – as Tom says, though it certainly doesn’t mean I am able to bring any of these qualities into my own work…but that is what I am progressing towards (I hope!). Up until recently I had collections of favourite images, but no clear understanding of why I liked them particularly – beyond them being beautiful things. I have always loved the Pre-Raphaelite, Impressionist, Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements, and certainly photographers like Bassano, Cheney-Johnston, Steichen are important photographic touchstones for me. Taking this thread further into the 20th Century, artists such as Hopper and photographers such as Ernst Haas, Arnold Newman, Cecil Beaton. In the modern era artists like Andrew Wyeth and photographers like Tim Walker, Ruven Afanador. Its is harder to define who I am influenced by in the current era, because there are many smaller influences, as the individual artists are not necessarily established, with large, consistent bodies of work. But photographers like Miller Mobley, Sarachamet, Claudia Wycisk, Yaman Ibrahamin, Ann Marshall are consistently producing images that inspire me – oh, and also some bloke called Ming…something* ;P

    So, what does all of this tell me about me as a photographer? Well, apart from beautiful light, composition and tonality, qualities such as romantacism (almost to the levels of the fantastical), richness, sumptuousness, almost bohemian or bourgeois seem to stir me. It seems to be more important to me to grab the imagination than to depict reality (at least reality as I know it in England in 2013), or to establish an individual in a way that projects something about their lives – almost illustrations or paintings. Perhaps it is about escapism. When I describe my tastes as “painterly”, for the sake of brevity, it is all of this that I am alluding to.

    *Ming’s place in this might appear odd (leaving out the fact that it is his blog!). I don’t imagine too many folks would consider his work “fantastical”, but images like his apples, the dragonfly on the reed, Thaipusam, certainly moved me in all the same ways, and acted as the nidus for seeking understanding of what made the photographer in me “tick”. I think Ming teaches me clarity of purpose and thought, and distillation of all of the myriad factors – technical, artistic and human – that are important in progressing as a photographer, and in doing so helps me to appreciate other artists, and their works, better.

    • I’m definitely seeing some of that influence in your assignment submissions, though – that’s not a bad thing at all :)

    • Tom Liles says:

      Brilliant post Ian. I saw your photo of the old couple on a bench: it was either from your name link here, or in MT’s reader pool. I can’t remember which, either way Flickr and either way it doesn’t matter, it was great. It was painterly.

      I notice you mention Hopper… Though he perhaps wasn’t Trash Can proper, I always have him in my head as being part of that; and it makes me wonder how do you feel about late 60s/70s/early 80s NYC street photography. That era we talked about on the Winogrand thread [that we can never see again].

      I only knew two of the photographers you mentioned. Google awaits!

      • Thanks Tom…yeah Hopper and many of those 50-70s NYC street photogs sit in a similar space in my head/heart – looking at Ernst Haas’s work makes the link a bit clearer…regular people going about their lives in less than salubrious settings, but with dramatic contrasty, moody light and colour that – to our eyes today at least – give an air of sophistication and style. They might have had the same issues we do today, or even worse, but damn they knew how to look good! I was born in NY in 1971 so, although I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it at the time, alot of that work resonates with me as it was the clothes that my parents/grandparents wore, the cars they drove, the brands they loved. I would so gladly have all of that as my pop-culture then that which my generation would claim. Perhaps this is why so many of the photographic and artistic influences on my life come from/are influenced by a yester-year that I never knew directly, but know through the memories of my parents and grandparents. Rose-coloured? Perhaps…but to my mind so much has been lost to the altar of mass-consumerism and globalisation. As you say we can never get back.

        • Tom Liles says:

          This is probably good timing. I’m just finishing up work, 11:54 Japanese time; 10:54 Malaysian time; 15:34 your time Ian? Anyway, yes, after I wrote it, I suppose I should have said Vivian Maier, etc… maybe for proximity to the NY that Hopper painted yes, but, honestly, I don’t think she belongs in the pantheon. And I did buy the book (I named my daughter Vivi; so the book is for her, for when she’s 18, or some random time in the future when I’ve completely forgotten what I bought the book for in the first place).

          You might enjoy a film by Woody Allen called MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. It’s set in Paris, has nothing to do with 70s NYC, but, ah, if you’ve seen it you probably already get why I mention it; if you haven’t, lodge it in your brain, next time you’re at the video store / streaming thing / whatever, and you see it, you can point your finger and go “ah!”

          Otherwise a must see is perhaps: DEATH OF A CHINESE BOOKIE. Not NYC again, but at least the same country. The era you like and John Cassavetes shot it John Cassavetes style. It’s set in LA, but I’d match it against any TAXI DRIVER, MEAN STREETS, etc. The vibe is one and the same. I think it’s because Cassavetes was a NYer like yourself.

          Christ, 12 midnight! I’m gone.

          Cheers Ian

          • Tom Liles says:

            P/S sorry Ian. I have no idea why I’m recommending films to you. And random picks like DEATH OF A CHINESE BOOKIE at that.

            • Heh, film is a visual art, no?! Well, Woody Allen and John Cassavetes – and Pollack, Lumet, Scorcese, DePalma, etc…all definitely in The Pantheon! Watched a BBC documentary about Vivian Maier the other night…absolutely wonderful, worth seeing over the internetz-web if you can find it. I love her work…but only heard of her recently (part of what made the documentary so heart-breakingly compelling). At one point they show the exact contents, in chronological order, as shot, on one of her previously undeveloped rolls of film – every one is perfectly exposed and well executed, each was of a totally different subject. How the heck she did that using the equipment of the time is just mind-blowing to me. And it wasn’t as if she was shooting still lifes…these were real humans beings in motion, living their lives…like I said…mind-blowing. Chokes me up just thinking of her.

              Night Tom :)

              • Tom Liles says:

                Ian,

                Walking home from the last train, ducked into a McDonalds for some dinner [eating at home would make a racket and wake the wife and kids]. Talk about consumerism, I’m in the belly of the beast here.

                Talk about Hopper. Nicely deserted in here: there’s just me, a student and his girlfriend, flicking about on iPhones as they stare at each other. Waiting for something? And one McStaff. One out front anyway. There must be a burger flipper back there somewhere, but I don’t want to think about him. I grew up on Beavis & Butthead, so… ah, we probably all get it. Worked in a fast food kitchen myself in my teens… But listen, me, the kids, the McStaff, 1am—I’m sitting in NIGHTHAWKS right here and now.

                And I left the camera at the office.

                Yeah, you know, I’d read Ming’s Review of Vivian Maier. Not been persuaded straight away; warmed to it, thinking it’d be a nice memento for Vivi [my little girl]; bought a copy on a whim. Sat and looked at it. Totally loved it, for a while. And think better of it now. This is not to detract from the quiet enigma of Vivian herself; but, mmm, as far as the photos go, something just doesn’t quite feel complete. I’m not really experienced or skilled enough to be able to put my finger on it, if it is that — and I have some gaul on me, but casting a critical eye on non-professional Vivian is a no-no in my book — this said, I do get this “missing a pinch of something feeling. Maybe it’s because I know she wasn’t a pro before seeing the pictures. Probably shouldn’t admit to that; but there it is.

                I’ll check for that BBC program. Hopefully some kind soul has YouTubed it: these people are the modern day Good Samaritans and Mother Teresas. God save them.
                This said, I miss the days of circulating video tapes around; the program ends with a band of static rising up the screen top to bottom, and then someone’s Mum’s Sunday matinee cutting in. John Ritter is Bill Grant in HEARTBEAT, etc.

                Those were the days :)

                Now bring me my cheeseburger!

                P/S the saddest thing about Ms. Maier for me was her plight: someone with so obvious a talent probably couldn’t have made it if she tried. I’m sure the reasons were as much socio-economic as gender based. Then, just as now, the art world is largely populated and controlled by the monied classes. It will be in a thousand years, just as it was thousands of years ago. Unassuming nannies from NYC don’t break that. I’m glad in a way. Having to brave the attendance of a gallery showing probably would’ve wrecked the tender weirdness on Vivian. I could be COMPLETELY wrong. We’ll never know.

                • Success, then as now, was based more on marketing than skill. And being a bit of a recluse, Vivian would have had a tough time. There wasn’t even an internet to hid behind…

              • Cinematography and studio photography are far closer than you think. And given how controlled/ packaged everything is these days…they’re only going to get closer.

          • Vivian Maier is one of those posthumous influences – a bit of luck of discovery, a bit of internet help, and she’s out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love her work, but I think it came a bit too late for most people currently shooting; perhaps the next generation, as you say.

        • Bigger question: even if we could, would we want to? As much as it’d be fun to photograph the Renaissance, we’d also probably be burned at the stake for stealing people’s souls with little boxes :P

  21. Tom Liles says:

    Also, conspicuous by his absence: HCB.

    [not a bad thing]

    • In my earlier photography, yes; in my current gestalt, less so. Timing is important but not as much as overall compositional balance and quality of light.

  22. Tom Liles says:

    Though no topic known to man has been seen to stop me from giving an opinion in the past, I’m not sure this is a good question to try and answer for people on the lower rungs, like me. There’s not much of an arrived at style or practice there to be influenced—since most of our time and energy is just spent trying any which way we can to get exposure and composition right. In a mad scrabble to get it before that guy walks out the… no! don’t move… ah :( So most of our time is spent trying get things right. Or within a reproducible envelope called “good.”

    Is it possible to be influenced when you have no capability of even getting close? And couldn’t do it twice even if you could?

    The less able, I’m one, do have dreams and drives. What I wish could do, what makes me try and do it. And just like a politician now, I’m going to redirect and answer my question that I want to answer and not yours which I can’t [because its too good] –> I just have 1) people I try to copy, and 2) pictures I try to reproduce. Above all, 3) pictures I want to take. All are in flux and the answer I’d give today is different to the answer I’ll give in a month’s time.
    [I've written "pictures" rather than "photos" to leave it deliberately open.]

    It would actually be interesting to hear what this is like for pros, if we’ve got some in the gallery [I've got an idea how MT feels. Parts one and two, in fact]. We’ll take the answer “money” as read—and as important. I remember Gordon mentioning there was a time — gone now — when he wouldn’t pick a camera up unless someone was paying him. But once you’ve mastered the equipment, can force an acceptable frame from more or less anything, get stuff that you could sell from anywhere… what of dreams and drive then? Is it just influences once you’re a pro.
    [in which case, don't answer this: I'll see your comments above and below]

    I really really really get #11. It’s non-trivial. I’d even go further and say the “tool for the job” stuff we hear from every professional all the time isn’t a useful point; more expensive and cooler looking equipment makes me take better pictures. I’m sure this isn’t the done thing to say. But it’s true for me. My whole demeanor and attitude change when I pick up the D3 compared to my iPhone. Of course their respective optical properties, performance are different. I don’t mean that [which seems so obvious as to be not worth mentioning. Here I am mentioning it]. And I don’t mean that those properties also influence what I take [obvious too]. I mean better equipment makes me take better pictures. Define better: mostly raw price—the camera [body + lens] that costed me more, also gives me more pleasurable pictures [I'm the only one who enjoys my pictures, let me just add]. And raw looks—the camera that looks cool to me, on the day, gives me better pictures; I’ve tested this by taking two to work, shooting the one I didn’t want to take in the a.m. [not as early as "golden time" but the early morning commute when the light and the sights are good], I use the one I did want to on lunch break [horrid Japanese midday sun]. The one I did want to take still yields the more pleasurable pictures. It’s worth mentioning that the “looks cool” metric is almost directly analogous to the “costed more” one—the cameras that costed more tend to look cooler. I think a few consumer industries have been aware of this for a year or two :)

    That influences me, for sure.

  23. Reblogged this on My take on Life..

  24. Rothko, Majoli, Ansel and Magritte. Damn, but that’s an eclectic group of influencers (note: ‘influencer’ isn’t either a correct English word, or one in common usage, but it’s appropriate here). And I have to say, not only do your words force a person to think….but your images, like those of your influencers…..are worth coming back to….and revisiting.

    Thanks for combining thoughtful philosphy….with images that live on.

  25. Nice to read it again. Looking forward to the next article. :-)

  26. LOL – love the counter-culturalness of No.13 – the DSLR as a decoy (albeit unintentional(?)) while shooting with a compact!

  27. Things that influence my photography:

    The focal length (e.g. 50mm vs 15mm)….
    The camera…..
    How much time do I have and is it “forced” or an environment where I can have time to myself ….
    The environment/subject/opportunity….(I won’t try and shoot “street photography” if it doesn’t really interest me. Which it doesn’t. The very good photographers at it though I certainly appreciate and it will have some influence…Alex Webb, Trent Parke and Kristian Dowling to name a few.)
    Documentary photographers – Salgado (industrial world, third world and environment), Peter Prosophos (family), Trent Parke, Ansel Adams
    And last but not least various forms of “light” will influence my brain which influences my photography….

    • Ouch, I don’t figure anywhere on that list? Even after all this content? :P

      • andygemmell says:

        Check this guy out for some influence. Jesse Marlow is a Melbourne based street photographer, amongst other forms. No blog of his and just a series of photos using a small compact, as far as the link goes. As I mentioned I’m not really into street photography but this does have some influence over me.

        Not posting to take people away from your site, just sharing some images around the topic of people that influence.

        If it was a blog I wouldn’t post out of respect to your site.

        http://panasonic.net/avc/lumix/gallery/lf1/jesse_marlow/

  28. As always, it’s a pleasure reading your post and seeing delightful images. Great.

  29. The more you know, the more you see:
    I still try to apply Daniel Kahnemann’s “Thinking fast and slow” to photography (and other things). It is a book on what is the basis of decision making – which is essentially based on not always conscious elimination processes and concentration on small things.
    But what is photograph? It is essentially the result of elimination – of what is outside the frame. And great pictures are usually great eliminations/exclusions with concentration on the subject. So knowing biases (visual and cognitive ones), and have a knowledge of the cognitive elimination process, I think, should help with making pictures.

    Great, inspiring photographers, I haven not seen mentioned, are László Moholy-Nagy (his earlier work, like ASCONA, not the photograms, is sometimes mind-blowing); August Sander (search e.g. for “HANDLANGER” and his name) did great portraits, Bressot (not the cheese) took great pictures of French small town life.

  30. And the more you see, the more difficult it becomes to eliminate the non-essential – I covered this in the anxiety of infinite composition. In reality, framing of any sort is really cropping to fit the biases of the observer…

    Hadn’t heard of any of the photographers you mentioned – I’m going to look them up now!

  31. With László Moholy-Nagy it must be the name – and the diversity of this artistic endeavours, including but not limited to photography. He was the successor of Johannes Itten, the former “Künstlerische Leiter”. After his emigration, he became founder and teacher in Chicago, at the “New Bauhaus”, now called “Institute of Design”.

    August Sander’s work was restricted (mostly) to Germany. He is famous for his attempt to portrait the society (of the 20-40’ies) in Germany, starting with farmers, ending with industrialists.

    The last name, my fault, is, in full Henri Cartier-Bresson. It was me, thinking of the cheese, and then misspelling his name into the cheese brand.

Trackbacks

  1. […] external inputs Our vision is a product of the sum of all external influences that we encounter: the more we see, the more possibilities we are open to. We cannot look for […]

  2. […] on from yesterday’s reposted article on influences, I wanted to delve a bit deeper into the topic. Influences go both ways – as in we are as […]

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