Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The importance of being Ernst. Or William. Or James. Or Steven. or YOURSELF!

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” 

Ernst Haas.


Thanks Ernst, that sums it up perfectly. As so many people these days want, or need, to take their own photographs I want to raise the issue of thinking more about how we both choose to do it and can explore our ability to do it. The blog so far has been very cider heavy and photography light, so today is the day the pendulum swings the other way.


I want to move away from my images, and cider, to bring your attention to some ideas and people that may help you think differently about photography.


For me, personal projects are where its at when you want to explore something and in my case I chose Cider. Any (unpaid) subject that you feel passionately about is the place to start. It should something you can go back to easily over and over again. If its likely to become a large part of you life, take the time to explain your ideas to the Mrs or any other loved ones you are likely to rely on and spend less time with. Having them on board will help you give the project the longevity it needs to become bigger than your everyday pics. The beauty of having an ongoing personal project is that it allows you time for reflection and is free from the constraints of commercial agenda. Money and art can make treacherous partners, so the opportunity to explore one free from the other is really quite liberating.


It sounds really obvious to say but how you choose to photograph something is entirely up to you. Its starts with you and ends with you deciding when you should to trigger the shutter. Whatever goes on inbetween those two points is your method and that is your opportunity to be unique. Whatever you point your camera at, you are faced with a choice of deciding how to capture it, whether to comment on it, how you feel about it, how others feel about it. You don't want it to be too obvious, and yet, you don't want to be different for the sake of it.

William Eggleston was reputed to only ever shoot one frame of his subject, then move on - the idea of which really appeals to me. I love his photos, they have a freedom about them yet they contain a dramatic narrative too. That method makes you feel decisive and free at the same time which can be a difficult combination to achieve as a photographer. Its like a formula for being unformulaic allowing your instincts to play a greater part before your brain gets the chance to cock it up. He has a very democratic approach where anything can be as important as everything else. Its more arts based and is something I aspire to be more like, certainly here in my personal work. 


Conversely the quintessentially English photographer James Ravilious revisted many places and people time and time again to get right under the skin of his projects. This approach allows you to build important relationships and familiarise yourself with the landscape and subject matter in a completely different way. It will either drive you mad or allow you to fall in love with your subject. W.Eugene Smith, often cited by photographers and many others as possibly the greatest photographer who ever lived, worked in the same way.


Another great way of looking at the different aspects of how to approach your photography is discussed here by the legendary Stephen Shore.


I have transcribed the following from the American Beauty video of him I found online where he describes the decisions he makes on the kit he decides to use (a chuffing massive 10"x8" plate camera) his 'visual thinking', his training and method. I love what he says and how he says it, its definitely large-format photography thinking.

'I think a work can hold alot of different things at once; explore the medium, explore perception and explore other psychological levels. In a simple physical way, the camera's recording with extraordinary detail and that allows me to see things of interest but not make them the whole point of the picture. For a person to see a scene with as much detail as this camera can record, might take several minutes but you can have the experience of taking it all in in a few seconds in a picture, so there is a sense of time being compressed in it. I've discovered that this camera was the technical means in photography of communicating what the world looks like in a state of heightened awareness. And its that awareness of really looking at the everday world with clear and focused attention that I'm interested in. There is a kind of visual thinking that goes on that is without words and not just words spoken but not even words in ones head. Most people think thinking has to do with words, this little voice in your head, but there is a visual thinking that doesn't have that. I spent maybe 10 years on a kind of formal exploration of photography and what happened is that I don't think about that anymore. I don't forget all that other stuff, but I don't think about it. You walk down the street when you were 11 months old , figuring out how to walk was the main focus of your attention. And you now you walk and you do it fine, you don't have to think about it, now you can think about where you are going. And I think thats sort of a similar thing, I'm thinking about where I am going with the picture.'

So there you have it. Think wordlessly.  Watch, be attentive to the world and its ways. Notice the things everyone else misses or doesn't think about. Shoot what you want to remember. Our search for the new is the most exciting bit. Whats next? What can I discover? Where can I go, what can I see?



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