Sunday, 23 January 2011

The sound of photography

In a moment of realisation, I tweeted this today "Beginning to realise there are more than three chords to photography, not to mention finger picking and different tunings. Genres too. Oh my" 

When I was about 16/17 I decided to teach myself the guitar. I sat for hours going from an E chord to an A chord and back again. I seemed to be disciplined and determined to learn how to play - and I did learn. I knew what kind of music I liked, therefore I tried to learn how to play like that. I jammed with a mate, Sye, who liked the same music. We got better. Sye got really good and still plays in bands today. I got to know all things guitar - makes, the differences and accessories. I studied past and present masters of blues and rock guitar - listening to their music and reading about them. Looking back learning seemed less 'cluttered'. No internet to lead you off in distracting directions! I realised today that I should maybe be taking this focused approach with my photography.

With photography, however, my tastes seem so eclectic. I love street photography, landscape photography, portraits, fashion and even some staged creations. Might it not be profitable to study and learn just one genre, like I did with the guitar? Yes, but how do I pursue street photography in rural Aberdeenshire? I suppose it is possible but logistically difficult. But the approach is sound I think.

I'm going to study, emulate and create from a genre/style/photographer. It will be one linked to my current ongoing project. If that genre of photography has only three chords to it and is played on an acoustic guitar with a plectrum and normal tuning, then I shall master that and then start to come up with my own tunes, in that genre. 

For some odd reason, thinking of photography as music has helped me today. Maybe it helped you. Maybe you do something similar with poetry or food or sport or whatever. Let me know.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Some thoughts on competition

I've been reading David duChemin's book Visionmongers and came upon, what I think is some sound advice for photographers regarding competition. He states:

'....I see competition as an intrinsically destructive force in a creative person. There is a sense in which competing pushes you harder, that comparing your work with others encourages you to hone your craft more aggressively or inspires you to move in different directions. But more often it pulls our focus from where it ought to be - on our vision, our work - and on to others.....You can't shoot for every market, you can't produce images in every style, and when you try to do so you create a moving target for potential clients who look, not for a jack-of-all-trades, but for someone whose vision and visual style matches what they're looking for.'

I still think looking at what other photographers do can inspire you do improve your craft and ultimately find your own style and vision (duChemin of course is not saying otherwise) and it can also boost sales and business in general, but the point he makes is so true. If you see another photographer selling more prints than you, how tempting is it to look at what people are buying and emulate it, taking your eye off the ball? I would be really annoyed if Neil Young started to copy rap artists to boost his sales. I want Neil Young to be Neil Young - in all his variations!

(Pic © James Dyas Davidson)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Think more, think less or let others think for you?

I recently watched the documentary on the making of Bruce Springsteen's album Darkness on the Edge of Town. I was moved by it in many ways. Bruce was only in his 20's when he made the record but his philosophy, work ethic and vision seemed to me to be so mature. He was trying to come to a reckoning with the adult world; dealing with a future life of limitations and compromise but finding the resilience and commitment to still embrace life. He also was considering what is sin in a good life and how do you carry that, deal with that? Thus, he wanted the album to be stripped down to its barest and austere elements with no distraction to the narrative.
When it came to deciding on getting the photograph for the album cover, Frank Stefanko was chosen. Frank had just moved into a new apartment so it had little furniture and old wallpaper on the walls from the previous blue collar working class family. Bruce just took a sample of his usual clothes and Frank took a few test shots.

© Frank Stefanko,

Of course Bruce chose those test shots as they were very stripped down, revealing and 'blue collar' - just what he wanted for the album. Fortuitous for Frank but what if he had found out more about Bruce's vision for the album? Would he have done something similar or entirely different and perhaps cliched? Who knows, but a good story and perhaps a lesson to photographers - show the client all your shots?

Back to Bruce; his maturity at such an early age stunned me. He seemed to see that as you get older, you can end up in a life in stasis, shackled by memories and hurt. Old habits die hard and patterns repeat themselves and you can unintentionally let past disappointments effect your present and it can be difficult to move forward.

I'm listening to that album with new ears whilst smiling at the cover shot by Frank Stefanko.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Getting critique on your work

Knock Castle
Originally uploaded by James_at_Slack
Happy New Year!

This blog has been neglected of late due to many boring reasons. But in 2011, I'm just going to use it as a place for me to 'store' thoughts and ideas. There's so much content on the web now and the number of amazing blogs and sites can be paralysing. I no longer expect many people to read mine but that is not a reason to stop it.

I'm at a stage in my photography where I need to know from others if I suck or not and how to improve. It is not easy to get people to be brutally honest with your work.

Fortunately for me, a fellow photographer whom I respect, decided to spend a great deal of time going through pictures of mine that I had picked from Flickr from 2010 and put on my Facebook page. (The shot which goes with this post is one of his favourites.) Here is my comment to him:

I can't thank you enough for doing that Rob. I'm very touched by the time and effort you've spent. It is very difficult to get critique on your work on the net. It tends to be 'Nice shot' or nothing. I've had some detailed and helpful comments from fellow photographers on Flickr which I appreciate immensely. I'm going to do more of it myself in 2011.
At this point in my life and photography I need to know whether to pack it all in because I'm crap/bland/boring or to keep improving to hopefully get to the next level. I can see what I have to do, and want to do which was expressed in some blog posts (Thoughts from my hospital bed) but frustratingly, the weather, work and illness put that on hold.
I've had time to think about my work recently, to get back on track and I can see that in 2010 I've explored other areas (portraits/fashion/studio) and moved away from others (abstracts) just to see what I can learn. This has also helped me see what I don't want to do and be more focussed and thoughtful about what I do want to do.
I'm sure if all photographers put up a selection of their work they did in 2010, they would see that there were some good shots, others that were a missed opportunity and some that you can't quite understand why you put it up for show in the first place! It all helps to improve your craft.
I need a mentor, I need a picture editor and I need to get out with other photographers more. This may or may not happen this year but what I can do and will do is exactly what you suggest - think more. I'm going to describe the picture more BEFORE I take, i.e. what POV?, what lens?, what settings?, when?, why?