Teaching me to see. / by Hugh Rawson

Of course, in my last blog, I didn’t mention the main reason that many people take photographs. The creative outlet. I firmly believe that our capacity to express ourselves artistically is a major element of what separates us from beasts. I have always felt this drive - be it through music, writing or photography - and have dabbled in several areas while I have sought to find my voice, my style or the best way to express myself. It is a basic need and one which often restores equilibrium at the end of a busy day; for those of us who don’t work in the creative industries at least.

 

I can trace my interest in photographs, if not cameras, back to my childhood and my parents giving me a Polaroid camera when I can’t have been more than about seven. However, once my dad had read the instructions and discovered that the prints were coated in poisonous chemicals, it was taken from me in order to keep my younger siblings safe. That camera was swapped for what I believe was a Kodak Instamatic 133 with a cuboid four flash attachment. Obviously it didn’t bring the instant gratification that a Polaroid would have brought to an impatient seven year old. But it didn’t kill my brothers and sisters either.

 

  Christmas with an Instamatic, siblings and someone's friend... (c.1972)

Christmas with an Instamatic, siblings and someone's friend... (c.1972)

Time passed and I swapped the Kodak’s cartridge film and its funny purple flashcube for my first SLR. By now I was a student and could afford (!) a Praktica - don’t ask me what model or what happened to it. It was responsible for some suitably mean, moody and magnificent shots of south east London in the mid 1980’s - not to mention the flat-tops and misguided mullets of some of my friends.

 

There then followed a photographic drought - with the exception of the odd holiday and small child snaps - until two developments swept me up. One was technological with the advent of digital cameras and a chance freebie on a teaching course which provided me with a very primitive digital camera and a laptop. It wasn’t inspiring. But the technology was moving and soon I was able to have a camera that was small enough to fit in a jacket or a cycle jersey when I was out and about. Before too long even on my phone. Like many people, the best camera being the one I had with me, the mobile phone camera has become a way into (or back into) photography.

 

The second development came when I was introduced to a Fuji bridge camera and taken out into the Hampshire countryside for a day with a friend. The pictures I took that cold January day were amazing - or so I thought. Blurred streams, frozen waterfalls, close-ups of leaf skeletons … Actually, the quality didn’t matter. Here was something which hooked me. It was expressive but it also required a degree of technical know-how that I could spend time learning.

While the bridge camera has been superseded, my friend hasn’t and now many of my photographs are taken on stolen, precious days out with him and another friend - two photographers who know far more than me and have taught me much in the last few years. We descend upon our chosen venue - very often London - and shoot whatever grabs us, punctuated by espressos, pies and pints. Much of the time we are apart, only a matter of fifty to one hundred yards, but when we come back together we are always stunned by the huge differences when we compare shots on our viewfinders.

We all see things differently.

Once, a photograph was a photograph was a photograph. At least that's how it seemed to me. I've come to realise that any photograph reveals as much about the photographer as it does the subject. The three of us express ourselves in quite distinct ways and each has his own style. See for yourselves here: www.flickr.com/photos/auribins and www.flickr.com/photos/andythekeys.

Not only do I now understand that I see things differently to the photographer either side of me (just as they do) but also that I see things differently to how I used to before I was so camera-centric. A camera is never far away but even when it’s not in my hand I am constantly framing, composing and looking for images. It has made life much richer and brought the dullest activities to life. There is always a photograph out there if you learn how to find it. As a far better photographer than me (Dorothea Lange) once said: "The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera."