What informs your photography ?

The other week I was very publicly criticised by another photographer on a Flickr site that I belonged to. It was partly my own fault and in that respect I deserved the mauling I got. Not from this particular photographer though who took it upon himself to have a go at me, in a sense to kick me when I was down. To cut a long story short he told me and I quote,  “Yur pictures are OK but they are not nearly as good as you think they are.”  Yeah I know he couldn’t spell “Your” but that’s a mute point. What he should have said  is that my pictures were not as good as I think they were ‘in his opinion’ which maybe splitting hairs and you could  argue that, as he was the author, then of course it was his opinion !! It wasn’t just this that irritated me,  it was that he then failed to tell me ( not that I particularly cared ! ) by what criteria he was judging my work. I think what really rankled him was that I’d not asked him for feedback some months earlier when I contacted him on another issue. He obviously thought himself important enough and successful enough to review my work ?

Anyway before I replied to him privately ( I really didn’t want to embarrass him publicly ) I took a look at his website and his own work. I have to say he does some decent stuff and he’s had a little success. I’ve provided a link to his website in my Links but what surprised me is that in his Bio this ‘street photographer’  claimed to have no interests. If a  photographer claims to have no interests other than photography itself, the question at some point must surely be what informs their  photography ? How does a photographer make work if they are not interested in anything ?  If a photographer goes out and takes photographs of trees they must surely be interested in trees if only on a superficial level ? For the reader of this thread I cannot necessarily provide you with answers but what I do believe is that sooner or later if you go down the road less travelled as a photographer the question of what informs your photography will arise. Only you can and must answer that ! For the street photographer inevitably you will study the work of other street photographers ( including my erstwhile friend maybe ? ). You will study the critically acclaimed such as Winogrand, Friedlander, Frank, Klein, Erwitt, Arbus, Cartier-Bresson the list is almost endless and undoubtedly you will be influenced by them. You will also read books about photography and photographers. That’s how it should be, but sooner or later you will need to find your own unique voice and vision and part of that process will be to ask yourself that important question, What informs my photography ? I myself am still in that process and I even think it’s a process without end, a permanently on-going process. If I were to say that everything informs my photography that would not be particularly helpful to you the reader, even if I do believe it to be true.

How can I be more helpful ? Well it seems to me that a street photographer cannot truly create an important body of work if they are not interested in the human condition or  the Society and structure of the place they are operating in. Neither can they document a place if at least they don’t have a basic knowledge of the politics  local or national of the place they are in. Either that or at some point they are prepared to look at subjects such as sociology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology and even fictional work in respect of their chosen environment. For the past two years I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on by the American author John Steinbeck ( Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, etc etc )  He’s a particular favourite of mine and I don’t recall him mentioning photography once in those works but yet I feel he’s influenced my photographic thinking as much if not more by his telling of the human condition than the self  study of any of those photographers I’ve mentioned above.

I make no special claims about my own photography that you see on this Blog but what I can tell you is that it tries to be informed by much more than the subject itself.

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2 thoughts on “What informs your photography ?

  1. I must admit I have a bit of a problem with the phrase ‘informs my photography’ – I’m happier with ‘influences my photography’.
    I think most of the ‘great’ photographers acknowledge their debt to other photographers, writers, artists, poets, political persuasion (their own, or others) etc – to believe we can create recognised work from a totally naive base is unrealistic.
    I think we must accept that there will be those who do not see what we see in our photographs and also that people will see in our photographs what we don’t see ourselves.
    Perhaps your ‘friend’ might be better to use a video camera, if he has ‘no interests’ his chose of ‘moment’ must be pretty random – somewhere along the line a decision must be made as to when to push the shutter (although I know a number of ‘street photographers’ take the scatter gun approach), the ‘when’ must come from some influence.

    I take influence from wherever I can get it, but in taking this influence I recognise that my photography must be derivative.
    I’m amused by the phrase ‘they are not nearly as good as you think they are.’ – perhaps people bow when he enters the room.

    • Stephen – Thanks for your input. Whatever phrase suits you best !

      Let’s not dwell on my ‘friend’ too much, I’m sure he will have his own self imposed burdens but I do find it difficult to believe that despite his bio he doesn’t have any interests other than photography itself.
      The purpose of this article is to try and go beyond a blog which merely talks about street photography, other street photographers and photography in general. Frankly there are lots of Blogs out there ( some of which I’ve linked) which are already doing that, Eric Kim for example and a better job than me. Thanks for staying with me.

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