Acceptance and neophytes

Realising that I’m pleasantly stuck with my immediate surroundings has completely altered my attitude to how and what I shoot. What flows from that is realising why I make photographs.

As some may know, I moved out of London nearly 3 years ago and now live in a small village in Buckinghamshire. Even the nearby towns present little opportunity to find the variety of people and slices of life that are readily on offer in the city. As a result I have been forced to accept that I have limited options. Either spend a fortune going back time and again to the city or deal with it.

And deal with it I think I have.

Quotidian is a term I have come to love. Tiny moments of everyday life are now as interesting to me as dramatic scenes or overtly unusual confluences of circumstances. I’ve never been a fan of shooting people as they walk down pavements for the sake of capturing their expressions. People’s expressions are generally dull and normal. Additionally, using a flash only serves to make them grotesque and unnatural. So I have found myself beginning to embrace the everyday and see it as an opportunity to chronicle the gentle lives of the gentle folk of my nearby hamlets and am finally happy to be able to do that. I’m currently engaged in an ongoing conversation with Charlie Kirk about the message behind street photography and it’s given me much cause for pause to evaluate where I am photographically and consider why I’m doing this.

The birth of my interest in SP is largely irrelevant and it’s where I am now that’s important. I gravitate towards gentle humour and whimsy. I don’t think that’s trivial and, self-serving though that statement may be, I align myself in terms of outlook to the likes of Tony Ray- Jones and many others in the Brit tradition of SP. before anyone accuses me of false grandiosity, let me be clear that I’m not in any way suggesting that I’m even within the same galaxy as those shooters skill wise, simply that I see in their work the photographer that I want to be.

Linked to this is the end of my need for frequent online validation. I still use Flickr, primarily because the comments made by those whose opinion I trust is invaluable by way of a barometer for my progress. A pink star or comment from one of the members of my collective or (say) Todd Gross means more to me than an avalanche of stars from every one of my contacts. My membership in a collective is also the best thing I could have done to ensure that I stay honest in my shooting. Frank advice from experienced and gifted photographers is essential. I actually feel a little sorry for those who think that stars or likes from sycophantic followers is a real indication of ability. The upshot is that the internet is possibly the greatest source of hindrance to progress that anything else that has happened in the last 50 years.

Books are springing up left and right. People whose egos have been inflated by hollow words from a few have decided that they are entitled to join the ranks of the genuine “greats” whose books are causing my Ikea bookshelf to sag under the weight their brilliance, patience and commitment. If I ever make a book in the future, it will be because I have been urged to by people whose opinions and judgment I consider to be iron clad, not because I want money or earn kudos. If you want people to see your work makes a collection on Flickr or any of the other image oriented sites out there. And, unlike a certain Mr Keenan, don’t label yourself as a master. Even if someone has misguidedly referred to you as such, it’s the height of arrogance and deeply off putting. It’ll be decades before that ever happens and even if it does (which is statistically utterly improbable) that’s for others to decide.

Linked to the above is the question of workshops. Some are being offered by photographers who have been shooting for a relatively short time and many of whom obviously believe that they have sage advice that they can offer to newbies who know no better. That said, good luck to them all I say. I have nothing against these guys and girls personally, far from it. Many of them are affable characters who mean well. Indeed, it may be that one or two morsels of their experience could help their students. No more though than could be obtained for free by asking someone online. On the other hand all this does is perpetuate the cult of personality myth that the internet has infused into them and which can only be detrimental to their own development. The other result is that we are doomed to see mediocre images thrown up online by their students, who now continue to perpetuate the same style of shots and practices as their former sensei. By way of example, I saw a pic the other day on Flickr of a student making a portrait of a homeless man with his tutor standing 2 feet away grinning like a loon. The workshop promised “tips on how to overcome the fear of shooting strangers” (don’t they all?). So asking for a portrait of a homeless man is something that new SPers should have in their toolbox? That’s for you to decide but I don’t think so. How can you teach someone not to be nervous? The only way to really overcome a fear of candidly shooting strangers is to go out and shoot them. You don’t need a workshop for that. Just working legs, a little time to spare and a camera.

I’ve digressed slightly. The message in my work? I don’t have one. I’m not trying to educate anyone or preach. It’s a record of what I see and what interested me at the moment I pushed the button. At that moment I have nothing in mind except for making the best quality image that I could.

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