What is it about photography?

I have now been a photographer for a few years now.  As with any vocation it has its highlights and lowlights (no pun intended), but its unlike that many vocations it can be as incredibly rewarding.  It is by its very nature a creative process in many cases, even in the documentary field.  It comes in many guises with to some extent a requirement to specialise in one field or another.  Now at the moment I am fortunate to be employed to do what I enjoy so much (even the bad days are not that bad), but being employed also has its down side.  It does restrict to a degree my own direction and personal ambition, or maybe place certain ideas and concepts on hold.

In this time of financial uncertainty, I guess it is better to be in employment than not (although no-one seems safe).  With employment I do also get the freedom an opportunity to expand and improve (an important concept for any creative type) with relative comfort.

I have recently been reworking my archive, looking for something to document a transition or a journey.  As any photographer will tell you, when you train in the fundamentals and technical aspects of an industry regarded by many as magical, you get to understand these but how do you take that knowledge and make it your own?  I hear much about having an eye for a photo, and whilst this is true, I also believe that to a degree this can be taught.  There is a skill in seeing something and making a conscious decision about what shutter speed will work best or how much depth of field is needed, or what exposure value do I want to use.

I used to really search for the justification to consider photography as an art form.  My thinking was that was it fair to snatch a frame in a tiny fraction of a second, trusting at least to some luck that if the subject was talking I wasn’t going to capture a blink or one of those awkward expressions from mid sentence.  How can the blink of an eye compare to a masterpiece painting or sculpture that takes months or even years?  I think now that the truth is they should not be compared in terms of time taken.  My time as a media or PR photographer taught me to look for context in an image but to try to keep the image as simple as possible.  I took the image above along side a fellow photographer to illustrate the reopening of the Basrah airport for the annual Haaj pilgrimage.  As I took this particular shot my colleague was stood beside me, and I remember thinking that we must both have captured the same or very similar image.  I remember thinking that the framing and context seemed obvious.  It was only when we got back to the office that I saw he had gathered a set of shots completely different to mine (no better or worse).  I then realised that there is really no such thing as an obvious shot.  Our minds are all wired differently.  In that sense I think that an image can represent graphically the thoughts and contexts of the photographers eye at the time it was taken.

This is not enough to make any image stand out, as there are precious few that do.  I talk of course of the iconic images like the shot of Marilyn Monroe holding down her skirt over the vent or the controversial image of the raising of the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima.  There is an inevitable element of luck in both of these images.  There is no doubt that both of these images are great but what if another photographer had been there?  Well I would imagine that both these images would have been different, and having that knowledge would they then be considered iconic?  Who knows?

Sorry I have jumped off track a bit.

As I look through my archive, I look uncomfortably at some of my early images, (but then a get uncomfortable about some of the recent work too) especially when I try to remember why I took them.  In truth I would probably admit that those early days like all photographers I was experimenting with ideas.  Most don’t work in the beginning but I find that as time goes on, I still experiment but now I experiment with experience (some at least) behind me and have a certain expectation of the results.As with digital photography there is much you can do now that would have been much harder with film, if possible at all.  Photoshop skills are part of the trade now and should not be ignored or marginalised, as these skills are now as much part of the image as ever before.  These imaging skills are now available to all with editing software cheap to acquire.

That said there is still plenty of opportunity to capture shots in camera, and utilise the dynamics of photography, Still photography can capture motion but not as the eye seem it.Over the recent couple of years I have experimented more with studio work and at times have found it can be so rewarding, a studio portrait can be dull, lighting can lift it but sometimes you still need an expression.

What I like the most with studio work especially when working with real people, not models, is the effort it takes at times to break into a person.  It is always a challenge, never easy but not always a success.  The more experience I get, the better I get, but I never expect the killer shots as I can’t help but feel that is the slippery slope to mediocrity, and then failure.

I am not naive enough to believe that my photography is ground breaking or innovative, but by continuing to work at the skills and not be afraid of failing (with a shot), I will continually grow and improve.In many ways I am no different to any other photographer but in that same way I will always be different from any other photographer too.  This is not to say I am a better photographer than the next man (or woman), only you the viewer can decide if you like, hate or are indifferent to my work.Don’t look at one image though and make a decision on me as a photographer, as I grow with experience I adapt my expectations from a shoot to what I have communicated with the subject, but on the flip side, the images I capture today are no more a snap shot in time, they are the result of all those years of experience, of the mistakes and successes, the cold mornings, the hot middays in the desert.  All these things have got me here and the journey goes on.

 

So maybe just maybe photography is Art after all?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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