As far as I know, Jesus was not known for his photography … but he obviously experienced some of the problems that many of us experience when he said "no prophet is accepted in his home town.” I say many of us because I have done the research. Okay - it wasn’t particularly scientific and didn’t involve mice but I did ask the question of my instagram followers. And you can see what they told me in the poll on the left.
Street photography in my local area is something I struggle with but I felt that it was personal or unique to me, and mostly due to the fact that, having been a primary school teacher in the area for many years, I seem to be one step removed from every child, parent, grandparent and shop assistant within a fifteen mile radius. While it’s always nice to see the kids, I don’t always want to explain why I’m wondering around with a camera taking photos of their Uncle Richard or cousin Angie as they slip on an unseen dog deposit. So, for me, it’s fear of recognition and feeling like a pillock. Actually, it’s worse than being a pillock because if I happen to turn my lens towards a small child I could open myself up to all kinds of hurtful abuse - see my last post.
For others it’s a similar fear of sticking out like a sore thumb in the small village they live in. When you know everyone within walking distance they are more than likely to wonder why you are out with a camera until ultimately you develop a slightly eccentric reputation and people are then surprised when you don’t have it bolted to the end of your arm. Both mindsets are totally understandable and have to be overcome if you are going to shoot at home without requiring therapy afterwards. However, one had a much more basic complaint. “I can’t shoot at my home town. I find everything boring.”
Several of you were more than happy to shoot local. One photographer lives in a small town but still shoots 95% of their work there. Their instagram feed has 12k followers yet family members and friends have no idea that they are posting photos, all of which are taken on the iPhone. Remarkable stuff.
Another confirmed local shooter said that they wanted to give their home town some love. They told me that they see it as an opportunity to show local residents an interesting side to their town that they don’t normally take the time to notice. Interestingly, one photographer revealed that having returned to their home town after living abroad, they were found it more photographable than before.
For me, though not a great globe-trotting traveller, it is the lure of somewhere else where I can be anonymous and just get on with taking photographs that appeals. As one photographer said “It’s so nice to have that fresh space without any baggage. No history. Nobody to run into.” That is definitely a freedom that comes with anonymity. It doesn’t have to be abroad, just another town or city where you could be “blending in with other camera wielding tourists.” In fact, looking like a tourist provides a great cover. Pretending to stare at something way down the street is a ploy I have often used when getting that familiar look from someone whose soul I just have stolen with my 23mm lens (other lenses are available). (By one of those strange twists of fate that only the internet seems to throw up, as I write this my Spotify playlist has thrown up At Home He’s A Tourist by Gang of Four.) Looking like a tourist at home is maybe the perfect solution....
London is perfect for me in that sense - just up the road but big enough to disappear in and full of wide eyed camera wielding tourists. I lived there for ten years so know it well and the advantage of local knowledge shouldn’t be underestimated. Shooting at home would allow even easier access and the possibility to work a scene over time - think of all the great projects shot by photographers embedded in their home environment for years (most recently I’ve been enjoying Shirley Baker’s Without A Trace about Manchester and Salford in the 1960s). But it could also invite repetition which can be dangerous to the creative mind - always seeking to re-create that favourite shot from five years ago doesn’t challenge us to move forward.
Getting out or getting away does bring a fresh perspective. “I need the adventure, not knowing what I’m going to find, being alert, makes me feel like a kid.” One problem with shooting locally is that the backdrop becomes wallpaper and it’s much harder to spot the beauty in it. Being somewhere new really does heighten the senses and sharpen those camera eyes.
Clearly, although more of us seem to prefer to shoot “away,” we all need to find the place where we can create the images that please us most. As one photographer said, in a twist of a well known street photography adage, “The best street is the one you are on.”
With thanks to the following instagrammers for their wise words:
@zahyrc @tatsu_is_tatsu @nico_street_ @packetsofradge @davidebgm @ashsmithone @theurbantake @hebertofernandez @eingnckt @menasambiasi @bvstreet @so.asa @lhanna_photography
The history of street photography is full of images of lively children - shoeless and happy playing in derelict city streets, smiling in an outsized pair of mothers shoes, carrying home the shopping or, as in Henri-Cartier Bresson’s famous shot, a bottle of red under each arm and a cheeky grin.
Look through the average street photography account on Instagram, or any other social media stream, you will be hard pushed to find the younger generation at all. Sadly, this is not surprising.
We all know why. Nobody wants to incur the wrath or worse, the stream of abuse, of an irate parent fearful that their child’s image has been stolen for all the wrong reasons. And, therefore, many of us don’t try. Those images of children not only never appear - they are never taken. A hidden generation is being created at a time when we take more photos than ever.
Yet, if you walk into any town centre, children from decades ago, now adults or well-beyond, stare out from the ranks of birthday cards in stationers and supermarkets. Pick up a book of street photography from the last century, there they are; captured for posterity like ancient insects in amber. It’s almost as though children and their beaming smiles belong to another age and the streets today are devoid of children. Anyone remember the child catcher in Chiity Chitty Bang Bang and the empty square around the castle?
Are we to become the generation that didn’t have children? Or, at least, that airbrushed or Photoshopped them out of history? We would be much poorer for it - but that’s the risk.
Of course it is about intent. Why is the photographer taking the photograph in the first place? What is it they want to show? It is this intent which raises photography beyond a simple and precise record of a scene or object - almost for classification purposes. It isn't simply a scientific practice concerned with obtaining a correct exposure through combinations of shutter speed, size of aperture and sensitivity of sensors or film. It is an art form in which the photographer expresses an emotion, idea or even just a viewpoint. Surely any photographer who takes a photograph of a child for the wrong reason or with ill intent, will produce work which sets alarm bells ringing or, at the very least, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the viewer.
Children’s lives hugely enrich our own. They remind us of a distant past that we often hanker after. They point to a future full of potential. They provide moments of great humour - often through their attempts to be more like us, the grown ups. They possess a wide eyed sense of wonder that reminds us just how amazing our world is at times when we have grown weary of it ourselves. And photographs of children can do all of these things too. They often point to a truth that, as adults, we need reminding of.
Of course, the problem of the disgruntled and anxious parent doesn’t go away. However, we will only perpetuate the situation if we accept it. We can challenge it by taking good photos of children. If we are open and upfront about what we do then maybe the disgruntled mum or dad would recognise the same things in the image that we saw. We should be less inclined to be furtive, secretive and hidden but be prepared to share positive ‘good’ images of children on our feed. That way we can demonstrate our good intent next time we meet an anxious mum or dad. And, as with any street photograph, smile, share your Instagram or website details and offer to email them a copy. All parents think their children are the best thing since bread arrived sliced - hey; they might even ask you to take some more.
At the start of this year, that is just about to disappear around the corner, I wrote down my resolutions for 2018. I’m not a big fan of resolutions although, believe me, there is plenty to improve about me! So when I wrote them down it wasn't in a “post them on the fridge to haunt me” kind of a way. I wrote them on my blog (http://www.hughrawson.com/blog/resolutions-2018) so the whole world could hold me to account.
Actually, these weren’t so much resolutions as much as areas to develop within my photography. In that sense, these were things that aren’t just for the beginning of a new year but are development points for all year - a bit like the pet dog that’s not just for Christmas. Oh and I had no other resolutions - shoot me!
So - how did I do? Well, my end of year report, like so many of these things, would probably say “Could do better.” If I’m honest, I had to look back to see what my five resolutions were (never a good sign - except it’s a sign that I haven’t really focused on them!). But, but, but… I have made some progress on each of them. A recap…
Enter more competitions - a slight improvement here. Last year I had just entered the Sony Photography Awards - always a highlight of the year for me to see the range of images displayed at Somerset House in April. I didn’t get anywhere in that. However, I was thrilled to be shortlisted in the Street Photography category of the British Photography Awards with an image that I shot at my local village fair (moral: always carry your camera!). As a bonus, the article that Digital Photographer printed about my street photography last winter, made a reappearance in their 2018 annual.
2. Slow down - my default was always to shoot from the hip. Breeze through a crowd, shooting away like the final scene of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, and be gone before anyone fully realised what you were up to. I still like that instinctive approach and it suits my style to move fast and move on (I get bored easily). However, I was keen to become more considered in my approach - and I have been. My default lens for street is 23mm which works well for shooting from the hip. My favourite lens, however, is the Fujinon 56mm f1.2 - great for portraits, hopeless for shooting from the hip. The focal length is just too long - it’s all hit and miss and mostly the latter. So, I have taken the 56mm out with me, especially at night, and actually stood still to frame up and enjoy taking the time to compose. It works.
3. Get to know my camera better - probably the area I’ve done least well on. I know what I need and rarely venture beyond it. I can find my way around those limited areas pretty well by feel but pose me a more tricky question and I break into a cold sweat. One major achievement was to actually get round to setting up My Menu in the camera settings. I now have easy access to those things I use most often - that’s good. So I’ve got faster at doing the things I was already fast at! Erm?
4. More subtle colour processing - definitely improved here. I think, as much as anything, I’ve become a better self-critic and have developed a keener eye. I do enjoy the processing side probably as much as taking the photos, but have always been pretty heavy handed. I like my tastes strong - coffee, whisky, music, you name it - I’m just not a beige latte kind of gent. However, this meant that I was always overdoing the saturation, the contrast, and, particularly, the clarity (so, so tempting) until the shot was ruined. I just didn’t know it. A year ago, I was most pleased with my black and white images. This year there are fewer mono shots on my feed or my website. My colours have improved. They’re more subtle and are better for it. Less is more. Definitely.
5. Keep on keeping on - taking the shots I want to take. It’s very easy to be swayed by what brings in the most likes on Instagram or whatever social media you pay attention to. All of these things have fads and trends. And some of them are great - for a while. It’s never a bad thing to dabble in those waters. Get your feet wet and see what sticks as you continue to develop your own style. I know that when I do shoot the photos I want to take, that my style will resonate. Not someone else’s. And usually they are the photos that get the best comments and the most likes - and for all the right reasons. I’m pleased that I’ve shot for me this year and it has worked. I have a set of photos that I can be proud of and that say something about me. I still have so far to go...
So what about next year, you ask? And quite rightly.
Always, slow down - this should become my mantra. A re-enty from last year’s resolutions and straight in at number one. It’s that important to me. Fundamental. I am good at anticipating what is going to happen and I need to be quick to be in the right place. But sometimes, as I have learned, I also need to take my time. I did this a bit this year but going forward I am going to be more considered in my photography.
Strip back - carry less. I am a sucker for “take it just in case” syndrome. What if such and such a scene appears and I haven’t got the right lens? I nearly always end up carrying a spare lens and even another camera. Sometimes it gives me an extra flexibility but it also hampers me in moving about. To be honest, none of the kit is that heavy and the bag is only small - but it’s still a bag. It’s still stuff. I love the idea of moving swiftly through the city, camera in hand, and only a jacket pocket to keep it in. If that! It doesn’t happen often enough. Sticking to one focal length would put an end to dithering around with kit and potentially missing other shots. And, as a bonus, I’d get to really know that lens.
Travel more - I often read advice that says the best investment for your photography is travel - not kit. I am sure this is right. New places really open your eyes. For me, this doesn’t just mean travel abroad but I feel that I have become very parochial in my street photography. This year, I have found myself defaulting to London, and not just London but small areas around Mayfair and Soho in London. It would freshen things up to stay an extra few stops on the tube - or take a different line. Or even find out if there is anywhere outside London… answers on a postcard in orange crayon please.
More time on exhibitions and books - less time online. The recent iOS update for Apple allows me to see how long I spend online each day. Terrifying. I can resolve some of this as “working” on my website/social media presence/photo editing. I also know that vast swathes of my day can disappear when I have what I feel is an odd moment to "just check” - an odd moment that soon becomes half an hour. How much better it would be to spend that time looking at published photographers’ work in books or exhibitions. I’m not a social media hater who secretly uses it in my spare time. And I am aware of how valuable Instagram, for example, is as a tool for photographers today. However, there really is nothing like the look of an image in print in a book or framed large in an exhibition. We learn so much from the work of others. Yes, the internet gives us that easy access, but it’s also too easy to just browse through and flick by. Books and exhibitions force us to really look. I mean REALLY LOOK.
Get out more at night - yeah, I have a day job. And I get tired. Heck, it’s demanding, all right?You’d be tired too… And all that. But I have evenings that just get frittered away when, with a little effort and thought (thought and effort), they could be spent being creative on the streets, improving my skills, doing the thing I love. Do it Hugh.
Variety Pack - there isn’t much variety in my pack at the moment. It’s pretty much all street. Don’t get me wrong - that’s what I love. But photography is photography is photography… and any kind of photography is going to help with every other type of photography. How about some landscape, portrait, travel shots? How about really getting your head around flash photography this year? I’d be very satisfied to have that in my armoury in 2019.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, tips, advice and recommendations as well as any thoughts on your own resolutions for the year ahead.
Thanks for all of your support this year - it brings so much encouragement and inspiration.
Have a great 2019!
The end of the year is always a time for reflection - and you know how much I love a reflection! I’ve been putting together a gallery of favourite images that I have taken over the year and it is encouraging to review the journey that I have been on. This is particularly evident when I look back further than a year.
For me, photography continues to be a huge learning experience. However, I do find that, as I develop my skills and hone my vision, the steps of progress becomes smaller and smaller. I suppose that when I first picked up a camera I learned a lot at every stage. This is where the perspective of a year (or more) is an advantage and so much more rewarding. My progress today seems to be more about attention to detail and fine tuning.
There’s an inevitability that some of the most recent shots will be favourites - not necessarily because they are better (despite my comment above) but simply because they carry the fresh excitement of a new piece. This will mellow over time.
It’s interesting for me to note that there is far more colour this year. I have never found colour easy - at various stages opting for too much and completely over-saturating. I really struggled with it. I would look enviously at the work of Ernst Haas, Fred Herzog, Saul Leiter and those they have inspired today. I still do and have much to learn but it’s encouraging to see a better quality in my colour work beginning to come through. Interacting with some of these photographers on social media, and even meeting a few in the flesh, has been invigorating and ensured that the challenge remains.
Finally, let me say something about light. Immersing myself in photography magazines and books, I would read about the importance of light, chasing light, seeking light, following light… This year I feel that I have begun to gain an understanding of light and that is what has made the greatest difference to my images. I have paid more attention to the quality, direction and strength of light and I believe it shows in what I have produced.
The exciting things is that I know none of this is about achievement but is more about progress. The images from this year represent where I am now. Another stepping stone in the river of development. I know enough to know that the other side remains intangible but still something to strive for. May we never stop learning.
So here are the books that you recommended to me on my instagram feed @hueyraw (Some were already highlighted in my previous post so don’t get namechecked again here.)
Click on the image for a link to buy the book online.
Some of them aren’t so easy to get hold of. Anyone willing to republish some Fan Ho?
Thanks to the instagram crowd and especially @setex @daniel75009 @nico_street_ @nadiagrayphoto @bassabas @mikael_grs @friedaknips @menasambiasi @fabiennehanotaux @is_it_on_the_trolley @ashsmithone @gav__robinson @lucas.savoie
Everyone loves a list.
The desert island game is one I will willingly play from time to time - especially with music. Although choosing only ten tracks or pieces from a lifetime of passionate listening often seems as futile as it is impossible - moods shift, needs change and new things come along. The same applies to photo books. A new one is almost automatically elevated to favourite status and, if it’s not, then the purchase is always slightly tinged with regret.
So, which would you take? No fixed limit to the number of books but let's assume that your travel is not in some kind of mobile-library(!) so that there is some implied limit.
I started by imagining a top ten. I then asked my instagram followers for their favourites. This brought me a few familiar ones and some new books that I look forward to discovering. It also threw up the question of which books qualify - I had been thinking about books by one photographer. However, there were some really strong mentions of books about photography and some collections too
This first blog is going to focus on books by single photographers, leaving space for compilations (for want of a better word) and guides in future blogs.
I should also say that I am simply listing the book without a review. If you want to see what they’re like for yourself then there are plenty of places to look online or in bookshops.
So.. here we go. Click on the image for a link to buy online.
Honourable mentions to Anders Petersen, Marc Riboud, Mark Neville’s “Fancy Pictures,” and the sheer gorgeousness of Sebastiao Salgado’s use of deep blacks in his monochrome images.
If your favourite is not listed, I’d love to hear from you. Like or comment below.
Til next time.
Thrilled to be shortlisted in the Street category of the British Photography Awards with my image All The Fun Of The Fair.
Part of the competition is a public vote and you can vote for my image by clicking on the image which will take you to the link.
Please do look at the other images and categories - there is some amazing talent on show.
I am lucky enough to have had a week’s holiday; not travelling but just unwinding, catching up and reeling back some of the hours lost to the day-job over the past two months. I suppose that it’s part of my own sense of worth and some deep puritan work ethic that I am seemingly unable to completely stop. I begin my time off by making lists of tasks to achieve within the week ahead - one of which is to write this blog. (So here I am with less than 24 hours holiday remaining and a slight sense of guilt for not having done it earlier - anyone else been here?)
One of my main aims this week was to spend some time looking at photo-books. I have said several times in this blog space that one of the best ways to learn is to look at the work of the greats. It’s so important. It feed us, educates us , inspires us; yet it’s so easy to put off. Why wouldn’t I want to invest a small amount of time in something which I know will help me improve in an area I feel passionate about? Yet time is precious. Finite.
How long should one sit enjoying a pile of photo-books for? Two hours? One hour? 30 minutes? Ten? Even that can feel like an indulgence when there are other people in the house going about their business. Surely, one can find ten minutes in a week.
It turns out I couldn’t.
I do know where a considerable chunk of my time has gone. Social media. Specifically, Instagram and Twitter. In recent blogs I have written a good deal about social media and largely in positive tones. I am not about to change my view. While I find that I have spent a long time on both platforms - or longer than I would’ve wished - this is purely my problem and not one that I can blame the platform for. However, while I enjoy the capacity of social media to allow me to see many, many more images in a short space of time than ever before in history (and very easily too), I find that there is such a wealth of images to enjoy and respond to that I am not spending long on any of them. It’s become a swipe, flick and like mechanism. I consume hundreds of images in a day and I dread to think how much time I spend on each one. Or rather, how little time i spend on each one. I’ve learned to quickly take in the basic elements - composition, light, framing - but it’s almost a skim reading. Sometimes I probably spend longer writing a comment than looking. So many pictures. So little time.
Don’t get me wrong, I am inspired by what I see on social media, I learn from my peers, and it definitely feeds me - especially in encouraging me to pick up my camera, get out and start shooting. I need to learn to slow down and truly consider the images before me. In short, I need to chew my food, savour it and reflect on it, rather than always subsisting on the spaceman’s diet of a dry handful of tablets that contain just enough to sustain me.
This morning, the clocks went back. Today I have an extra hour. While I have been promising myself time spent with a pile of inspirational photo-books, the week has almost passed and I haven’t achieved it. So I hereby declare that I am going to commit to spending that hour with a fresh pot of coffee and a pile of books; a collection of paper images that I will turn slowly, savour, and force myself to look at more deeply. I come to them with the expectation that I will learn from them - both consciously and subconsciously. When I next pick up my camera I will do so with the improved knowledge and better vision that this hour and these books have brought me.
My last blog garnered a good response on social media - lots of positive comments on Instagram and Twitter; if no actual direct responses on here; the website that hosted it. Maybe that’s the perfect response in itself.
Thinking on (and I’m not the first person to think of all the things they wish they’d said after the moment had passed) I think the major omission from the blog was: inspiration.
For me, one of the greatest honours is to know that I have inspired someone else. There were a few posts on my feed this week that drew that response - I’d encouraged photographers to go out and shoot and, more specifically, to go looking for reflections.
Basking in that initial warm fuzz, I began to think about inspiration. I have been so inspired by so many of the feeds that I follow on both Instagram and Twitter that I was surprised that I hadn’t focused on that as a major reason for swimming in the social media pool.
Inspiration is a two way street. I can hope to inspire - but I expect to be inspired.
The work of other photographers has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing, of processing, of framing...
It has inspired me to visit new places and helped to plan my street photography when I am there.
I have been introduced to the work of other published photographers - both living and dead - through references and comments in feeds. Some feeds even exist to publish work of long gone greats who probably never even used the words “social” and “media” in the same sentence.
Social media really does have the capacity to inspire on a worldwide level - both looking ahead to the future as you see the work of current photographers develop, and looking back to the past.
In short, I can’t help feeling that if you don’t find inspiration in social media then you must be following the wrong people.
The new screen time facility on my phone is making me alarmingly aware of how much time I spend using my phone on a daily basis. Granted, a good chunk of this is playing music, using the satnav, making notes for my blog, emails, diary… you name it. But the great big guilty pleasure is social media. Instagram. Twitter. And a little bit of Facebook. All in the great cause of photography.
I know social media has a love-hate image. I can’t say I love it but I certainly don’t hate it. It’s simply the best tool for me and my street photography right now. Oh, I know it has it’s negatives:
It's a time hoover - one quick flirtation becomes a trawl though the latest updates and a cheeky check on how your latest masterpiece is faring.
The time spent framing finished photos for Instagram and the the whole tagging rigmarole, let alone thinking up a clever caption (I like words).
The swathes of bots and their promises to make you follower-rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
The companies that follow you because you once tagged a nearby town - you apparently need their pizzas, their gyms and their photo studios even though two continents now lie between you and them.
Followers who follow you for a follow back and then unfollow you within moments - before following you again in the next few days without realising you’ve met before.
The algorithms - I can’t begin to understand them. There are people who’s work I look forward to but don’t see their latest work for days. But then, I suppose, if I understood the algorithm then others far more savvy than me (not too difficult) would understand it too and they would have the system sewn up resulting in nothing but their adverts and beige offerings. So I think I’m glad the algorithm frustrates me.
But for all of those and more, it still feels like an amazing step forward to me.
You don’t have to travel far back in time to realise that your audience was essentially those members of the family that couldn’t escape your photo album after a hefty Sunday lunch. Gran, grandad and their cat. Today, your latest offering can reach hundreds and thousands - and more if you’re that good - in seconds. The level of exposure (no pun intended) to our photography today goes far beyond anything that earlier generations of photographers could have imagined. We take it for granted. Just imagine how difficult it would have been for our grandparents to hit the kind of viewer figures that we take for granted - even on our worst days.
The immediacy of it all is amazing, especially for those of us who grew up in the film days (some day my prints will come…).
It’s a great leveller. Everyone’s photo is presented in the same way. Okay, that may be a small screened phone, an iPad, or the latest wide screen plasma monitor - but the format that they are presented in remains consistent. That doesn’t just mean that fancy, gallery frames are irrelevant but that the quality of the photo is plain to see and it stands or falls on its own merit. I actually also like the fact that I can post a photo and it appears on my phone, on my pc or tablet - it’s as if someone else put it there (not just me), published for the world to see. It gives it a freshness and an objectivity that I hadn’t expected. It's a chance to hold my work up to the light and see how it compares to what every (and anyone) else has posted. Somehow it has the air of distance and I find it easier to be analytical, critical. And I learn from that.
I like that others will comment on my work - describing features, composition, point of view, perspective, tonal range, you name it. Often they notice things I hadn’t. I learn from these comments. And they build me up too.
It’s social media, right. Social. It’s about interacting. You can choose to walk into a party and not speak to a soul or you can compliment others on their hair, their suit, their dress, their latest book/recording/photo/whatever… Or you can choose to sit in a corner and scowl. Social media is like one big party to which everyone is invited. Sure, online followers follow for a variety of reasons - and one big one is to get followed back. That’s just the oil that greases the cogs. The oil is needed. It’s what gets your creations out there;
It’s a camera club for those who don’t like camera clubs. As Groucho Marx said “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” For those of us who are too shy, lazy or busy to commit to joining a camera club, it social media provides us with the feedback to grow; and inspiration from others whose work we admire.
It often surprises me. I like that my work gets approval. We all need stroking from time to time. We are social animals and the approval of our peers matters. I’d like to pretend that the number of likes, followers and retweets doesn’t matter, but it does. Sometimes a favourite, sure-fire shot dies an untimely, unheroic death. Sometimes a real doozy strikes a chord and scoops acclamation all over the place. Sometimes one of the followers picks you up and does something with it. I have had my first exhibition, magazine coverage and invitations to openings - all as a result of exposure on social media.
Finally, it introduces us to new ideas, new artists, new concepts. Photography is partly a science but, for me, it is primarily a creative process. Creativity is always reinventing itself and social media can often be the kindling for that creative spark. I still shoot to please myself, first and foremost. However, I learn from the responses and ideas of others. Man is a social animal - not an island.
There are those who continue to use social media but slag it off, which I don’t really understand. I know I probably spend far longer on it than I should - but that’s my problem, not the media itself.
I’m writing this for myself, as much as for anyone else. I need to remind myself that sometimes I just have to get on with it. Stop putting it off and just do it, to coin Nike’s phrase.
No more waiting until everything is in place. Because it never is.
Let’s face it, we will never ever feel that something is completely ready, never feel that it’s good enough, never feel that we have said it, photographed it, processed it... in the best possible way.
So get on with it. Print your work. Make a book. Host an exhibition. Launch your website. Photograph strangers. Whatever it is…do it. Unless we actually begin, we will never finish. And, do you know what? Sometimes, when we begin, we realise that the finishing part isn’t quite so hard.
Last time I said "We are all seeking the ultimate photograph. That one shot that says it all!” That wasn’t meant as a reason to give up because we will never be satisfied. It was meant as a recognition that it is that very act of striving that makes the likelihood of achieving it more likely. As Elliot Erwhitt said "Nothing happens when you sit at home."
So what is the ultimate photograph? We assume that every great photo we see is perfection itself, don’t we? Just because it’s in a book, or on a gallery wall or on Instagram. But every artist, great or small, from Sebastian Salgado to the girl next door with her selfie stick, must surely feel as we all do. That they could have done it better if…and you can finish that sentence yourself with one of over a million different reasons.
Think of your best photo. The one that you are most proud of. If you have a website, it’s that one there, right on the Home page. If you could show me - I guarantee you would also point out where it could be improved. If the light had been better; if you’d got there later, stayed there longer; if you hadn’t over saturated the processing… We all do it.
It is human nature to compare ourselves and our achievements with others. And to put ourselves down. It stems from a primeval need to survive, from a time when we humans were always on the look out for threats. But there are no sabre toothed tigers on Instagram.
We are all constantly striving for artistic perfection and never feel that we achieve it. And, do you know what? That’s fine. It’s the striving and envisioning that is important. That is how we hone our craft. By taking the shot, putting out there and gauging the response. Not by sitting back and waiting for the perfect moment.
Sometimes it seems that there is an almost constant reassessment and reevaluation of social media. Often the most vocal critics are those who seem unable to walk away from it. Personally, I enjoy the opportunities to learn from others’ work, and to place my own in the public eye for a far wider audience than I could ever have dreamed of. The way I see it, we are all learners, learning all the time - to a greater or lesser extent. Even those with tens of thousands of followers post disappointing images sometimes. And do you know what? They probably never feel completely satisfied with their work either. I bet that occasionally they post photos that they expect to be met with great acclaim, only to find the silent curse of internet tumbleweed blowing through their feed. Just as I do. And at other, less-inspired times, they probably post something that’s been gathering virtual dust in the cellar of their hard drive, only to find it being greeted with wide acclaim and a posse of new followers. Just as I do.
We are all seeking the ultimate photograph. That one shot that says it all!
It’s human nature to want to get better at whatever we are doing. We are also our own harshest critics, pointing out why our latest great hope is actually fatally flawed. We failed to nail it. Name your top three all time greatest photographers and I guarantee that they would tell you that they never nailed it either. Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand, Leiter, that Instagram shooter with a squillion followers… If only we could ask them.
It’s natural to be striving for improvement; for innovation; for that new angle. There’s always something we could do better next time.
Throughout history people have been inspired by others. It’s natural to want to recreate something that has brought us pleasure. That does not mean a direct imitation - plagiarism - but a desire to create something which evokes the same feeling, creates the same atmosphere, has the same message; or any combination of these and more. We learn by imitating. It helps us to understand what the originator did - be it artistic, scientific, sporting - whatever...
Once we have understood how something was done, we can then assimilate that technique into our own skillset. We are in a new position - we are able to innovate. Taking our new skills, we bring our own background, experiences, tastes etc to the creative process and can now shoot a new image. This image is rooted in all we learned from the original artist but we have moved it beyond imitation to create something new. This innovation is all part of finding our “voice” or distinctive style.
We have all experienced knowing who took a particular image before being told, simply by recognising certain elements and features of their style. With perseverance, the best artists find their own distinctive, easily identifiable style. They have learned their craft and have moved beyond imitation and innovation, based upon their initial artist led inspiration, to a higher state where they are able to use their hard earned skills to create something totally new, in their own unique voice. This is invention. Invention needs both imitation and innovation. No one invents in a creative void, out of nowhere.
This is the learning process. It is something everyone goes through - from learning to speak to painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Pick up a photography magazine and you will read an interview in which professionals tip their hats to those who have gone before. They are happy to acknowledge the influence of a Robert Frank, a Cartier-Bresson, a Garry Winogrand. Or go to a big hitter on Instagram and you’ll find that very often their feed will happily direct you to others who they admire. Even the first photographers (without any photographers to emulate) were influenced by the fine artists of the past, learning composition from the painters and sculptors of the previous thousands of years.
It was partly as a result of a recent tense exchange on social media that I decided to put down these words. The debate centred around the use of public spaces and whether one photographer can claim to own a specific view because they believe they shot there first. The streets are busy places and London (perhaps more than other cities at the present time) is seemingly filled with street photographers. Beyond that, anyone with a smartphone has the capacity to shoot in these popular places. The great views are, after all, popular for the very reason that they are great views. Some places will be there for centuries to come - monuments, grand buildings, landmarks. Others are more transitory than others - advertising hoardings, building sites etc. Perhaps the work of another photographer encourages us to emulate their work in a certain place, or even to feel that we can build on what they achieved, having a go at creating something new for ourselves as we seek to present our own unique take on our surroundings. Once we can imitate what they have created, we can then innovate and finally invent our own unique image. Each of us is a singular and creative individual - each with our own unique outlook, background, likes, dislikes, tastes and way of seeing. We are all striving to develop our own voice or style that incorporates that uniqueness - but we need to learn from those around us and those who went before.
There is room for us all.
Highlights from Notting Hill Carnival 2018.Read More
A village fair and some shots taken into cafes for this week's offering:
If truth be told, I’ve always struggled a little bit with the idea of a blog. I set up my website as a place to share images and the blog kind of came along for the ride, like a trailer, or the family mutt, or a piece of chewing gun stuck to my shoe. Now I’m coming to realise that I don’t change the galleries as often as I should and that the blog is often the scene of some self-flagellation. I have many half formed opinions about cameras, techniques, practice, photographers, family pets, chewing gum…. but they remain half formed and unpublished.
One thing I do know is that I continue to take photos and keep on posting them on social media. And so it occurs to me that just maybe the blog space is the place to put my most recent work and see how it is received - or even just see what it looks like online. Maybe it's a modern day twist on Garry Winogrand's view that he takes photographs to see what things look like photographed by him. Perhaps this is going to become the space where I find out what things look like online, posted by me!
I always kept a diary as a kid and even into my adult life. Perhaps this blog space should be a continuation of that - a visual record of a small number of the images that I take each week. I can’t promise that I will manage to do this each week but if I keep it text light and post a few images it shouldn’t be beyond me, should it? It's a target.
I am going to limit myself to four images from the previous seven days - hence 4 from 7; and this is the first.
No posts for a while and then two in one day…
Just a short one to mention how honoured I am to have been listed in the list of Top 10 UK Street Photography Blogs. For me, it’s a real honour to be mentioned alongside the likes of Linda Wisdom (Linda Wisdom Photography) and Max Gor (maxgor.com).
Do check them out and the other great UK photographers in the list. And pass them on…
Since watching the Champions League Final I have been thinking a lot about making mistakes. For the uninterested football avoiders or those who have been dormant for whatever reason, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius made two catastrophic errors which effectively cost his side the game and the trophy. Uninterested football avoiders please bear with me.
Goalkeeper has to be the most vulnerable position in football. Most mistakes are immediately punished. And punishment is swift and harsh, particularly from your own fans. Football fans have long memories. An outfield player, on the other (ungloved) hand, is given more leeway. The tragedy of this situation is that for Karius this will almost certainly have been the biggest match in his career and he will probably be forever remembered for it. It will take some spectacular keeping in matches and seasons to come to change people’s memories.
Karius won’t agree with me right now, I’m sure, but I think mistakes can be brilliant. Aren’t they how you learn? Take riding a bike; your body’s muscle memory soon learns what to avoid if it wants to make skimmed knees and bleeding elbows things of the past. Take making a curry; too spicy and it’s unpalatable - you go easy next time. Travel overnight to that once in a lifetime sunrise without a battery for your camera - you check next time (and every time thereafter). It’s these mistakes that help you focus your skills into becoming a better cyclist, curry chef, photographer....
The important thing is that when things go wrong you look at why they went wrong and you go again. You get back on that bike. By doing that, you are making sure that you learn from that mistake.
The mistake becomes your best teacher.
Street photography is high paced with scenes opening and closing before you in the blink of a 1/500 shutter. You often don’t have time to think about what you have just shot, let alone check it in the viewfinder, before the next three scenes establish themselves in front of you. There is little time to learn as you go. The exception is the mistake that actually prevents you getting the shot. How often have you you switched the camera off then continued to shoot nothing? Forgotten to remove the lens cap for that best shot of the day? These things all happen to all of us and we shrug and move on, vowing never to make the same mistake again.
The time to learn from mistakes is very often later on - pausing for a coffee and checking back on the screen or when the images appear in the darkroom or computer monitor. That’s when you get a chance to critically review your work. Some mistakes you can correct with increasingly sophisticated software - under/over exposure probably being the key fixable error. Other mistakes you just have to make the best of or give up on but put right next time. If you are shooting a familiar place then you can probably make sure you position yourself better next time. If it was a one off situation, you just have to accept that your mistake will be burned into your memory and you will avoid making the same one next time.
It’s worth saying, at this point, that street photography is a very hard task master and is pretty unforgiving in its hit rate. Most of what I shoot is not for public consumption because it falls short of what I had envisaged and of what I would want anyone else to see. It is always disheartening to download a day’s worth of images and then sift the ones that are keepers. There are so few. Some are mediocre at best. The vast majority are immediately deleted.
Thankfully, we forget the ones we delete. It’s the select few that we go to work on - processing to a greater or lesser degree - and its these images that embed themselves in our memories and on our hard drives.
And just occasionally, a mistake turns out to be a hit. Regular readers/viewers of my work will know that I am drawn to windows for framing, for giving glimpses into interior worlds and sometimes for the reflections. The problem with shooting into windows is very often that what you see with your naked eye is different to what the camera sees. This can lead to disaster or a fortuitous happenstance, as in today’s picture. I was wanting a shot of the lady (btm right) and her friend (edited out to the left) but the reflections had other plans. I think it works.
It’s good to keep learning - not just in photography but in all we do - and mistakes are an integral part of that. When we are afraid to try, for fear of failing, we will learn nothing. After all, penicillin was a happy accident - a brilliant mistake.
When Henri Cartier Bresson was asked about what made a great composition he simply replied “Geometry.”
I had this in mind when I found myself staying in a 34th floor apartment in Toronto recently. The view across the city and to the next door CN Tower was amazing. However, it was the view immediately below that fascinated me. I was transfixed by the ant-like people. They manoeuvred themselves along the busy streets, stopping at junctions and then beginning their immaculately choreographed street dance again. All of this movement was punctuated by the road markings and street furniture which would not even be worth a second glance for a local resident. To a tourist and street photographer, these were things of beauty.
It’s a great gift to photographers that new places allow you to see things with the fresh eyes denied to the locals. I loved the yellow and red taxis, the yellow fire hydrants, the stop signs, billboards and fire engines. Those colours just ... popped!
My usual street photography set up involves a 35mm equivalent lens on my Fuji x100f. However, that would have been useless up there. Instead I reached for a 300mm lens; something that would be impractical and highly unusual in street photography where Capa’s maxim of getting in close is sacrosanct. I needed those 300 millimetres to frame the shots I wanted; shutting out so much of the busy streets and just focusing on the geometry below.
Something a little different from me - but all the more satisfying for it.
I find that when I go out specifically to take photos that I can’t allow myself other distractions or it just doesn’t work. I’m not the kind of photographer who can listen to headphones while I shoot (much as I wish I could) or text, eat, drink or any of the other things which seem to count as essential to modern life. Maybe it’s a bloke thing - after all, I’m not half as good at multi-tasking as my wife or female colleagues. I have to be in the zone and focused on just that one task.
I am rarely bored. Whenever I find I have time on my hands, my camera seems to magically create a host of photographic opportunities. If I’m alone, even in the most familiar of places, give me time and a camera and suddenly the scene has great potential. It doesn’t matter if I’ve never been there before or I know the place like the back of my hand. There is aways something to see.
Obviously, having time means I will look around and notice things that otherwise may never have caught my eye. Throw a little patience into the equation and, of course, opportunities will appear the longer I wait.
This morning, sitting alone in a cafe I know well, I became aware, for the first time, of the light coming through the doors. These are doors I’ve walked through many times. This time I was alone, with time to kill. That light was just waiting for the right character to silhouette themselves there. And suddenly my morning was transformed.