There are many different types of photographers; all the way from the fully spontaneous use-whatever-falls-to-hand-and-just-hit-the-shutter-so-long-as-I-get-an-image, to the people who only photograph under 100% controlled situations – think still life in a studio, tethered. I’m somewhere in the middle, though definitely much further towards the latter end of the spectrum. The reason I’m writing this article is because during a recent workshop, I was asked by a student if I really kept all of the ‘four important things’ (and sub things) in my head and under active consideration even in a split-second instant; the answer is yes, and there’s quite a bit more on top of that – but I’ve been doing it for so long that the vast majority of the whole capture process becomes second nature.
Not much to say about this one: I, as much as the next guy, love a good sunset. I can’t honestly think of a better way to end the day. You may well find several of these to be in an eminently painterly style, too. Enjoy! MT
Escape from yourself: clouds are like thoughts, the clear blue sky is freedom, and the person left behind is your ego. The car represents your way out, and the road is the constraints of your mind, complete with bright areas, order, logic, and dark, unconscionable ones.
I’ve often been accused of making images that are precise, cold and soulless; the more I look at images from other photographers, I’m inclined to agree. Taken in context with the opening title of this article, that probably doesn’t bode well for impressions of me as a person. It did get me thinking, though: since the act of photographing is really one of conscious exclusion in which we eliminate all of the elements that are distracting or unnecessary to the subject/ story, what does this say about us?
Today’s photoessay is the continuation of the curated collection of people I photographed in Havana – (part I is here) the tricky part was to try to avoid cliches (unsuccessful, I think) but at the same time get a decent representation of activity. I think many of my students did this better – my Asian reserve prevented me from sticking my head into doorways and windows of homes (though that’s different if I’m on assignment) – but beyond that, I prefer to photograph people in a natural state without them being conscious of my presence and changing their behaviour to suit; whatever it was they were doing that was interesting in the first place would almost certainly cease and change.
There comes a point in the growth of every photographer where they reach a ‘hump’ which appears to be insurmountable in any obvious way: you just don’t think you can get any better, no matter what you do. This may be at a very low level, or a very high one; depending on your natural visual aptitude. But it happens to everybody – it’s happened to me several times in the past. Today I’d like to talk about things you can do to move past it and up your game. After all, everybody wants to make better images, right?
‘Project’-type photography – images shot to a theme as an exercise or assignment or with a view to an eventual exhibition – is generally a good way to motivate you to shoot if you’re stuck for inspiration. It narrows down the entire universe of possible subjects to just a few, or one. Or a single style. That restriction prevents the mental anguish of overload: either too many things to shoot, or nothing that really stands out in a visual barrage. If you’ve extensively shot the place you live in, it’s probably the former; the result is that you don’t land up photographing unless you take a trip or there’s an event – i.e. something out of the ordinary. The latter is what happens during that trip: perhaps there’s no inspiration, or there are just too many possible subjects, which result in a photographer losing focus and making a weak portfolio. Focus of effort is therefore generally a good idea. Believe it or not, this is actually the first intensely focused project of its sort I’ve attempted.
Attempting to make the transition – perhaps augmentation is a more accurate description – from commercial photographer to fine art photographer as a profession in the last six months has not been easy. I suspect there are quite a few reasons for this: firstly, [defining a product] has become a significantly larger challenge since you are not creating to-spec for a client, but creating something you imagine from scratch. That something has to be visually distinctive enough to stand out, aesthetically pleasing enough to elicit desire, and exclusive enough to appeal to the typical art buyer.
And here the conflict begins.
Today’s photoessay is the first part of my report from the streets of Cuba. I tried to go in with as few preconceptions as possible, to just observe and shoot; there’s a little bit of movement away from the anonymity I’d been pursuing in my previous images. Perhaps it’s because the city itself is not anonymous or uniform or soulless or a cookie-cutter copy of every other first world city; the individuals mattered again – even when they were in groups.
I struggled to find an appropriate image to go with this article. I think this works, though: firstly, it was shot with an iPhone, on an occasion I could not foresee doing any photography. But having an open mind and an active eye meant that I saw it; experience/ practice meant that I could make do with the bare minimum, and enjoying cigars meant that I was in the right place at the right time to begin with. All will be explained towards the end of the article…
Don’t worry. Despite the slightly off-topic title, it’s very much a post about photography. This isn’t a moment of existential angst, but rather a clarification of purpose. It isn’t quite the same as article on Why We Photograph from some time ago; it’s far more personal than that. On reflection, I think it’s very important to understand the motivations behind certain things so that a) we might do them better and b) we avoid doing things we don’t enjoy. Especially when there’s a choice.
The more time I spend in places like Tokyo – big cities, specifically – the more I get the impression that people fight harder and harder to maintain their own personal space; it’s almost as though there’s some strange inverse law that dictates the smaller the available physical space for each individual, the greater the social gulf between them. Cities seem to have become a collection of people who mostly happen to live together for reasons of convenience rather than community; this is visible in the lack of any sort of pride or loyalty in its inhabitants; it’s every man and woman for themselves. Perhaps the internet is partially to blame; we no longer have to actually know our neighbours and live with them; if we don’t like the people who immediately surround us, there are plenty of online communities full of others who are closer in interest – hell, this site is one of them. [Read more...]