Sunday, May 11, 2008


I’d never really thought of myself as an arrogant git – I leave that to others. But when you’ve done something for a decent length of time, you tend to reach a point where, if you’re not careful, you know it all. Of course, you don’t know it all – you just think you do. Which makes it infinitely worse.

So, one of the things I’ve tried to impose on myself as life flows along, is as much as possible, to see things with an open mind. I specifically and deliberately exclude Rap Music from this, on the basis that every rule must have an exception.

But, take Photography. Now, I know a little bit about it, not an enormous amount, but quite a lot more than Mr Average. Over the last twenty years, I have had more “religious” (in a non God like way) experiences with a camera in my hand, than at any other time. I take predominantly landscape images, and the utter beauty of being the only one within eye-shot of a glorious sunrise, or a menacing storm-cloud, can make me feel that time has stopped, and all I see in front of me is being produced by some power just to make my life perfect for a few minutes.

But even here, I like to think I’ve developed a personal “style”, which is ME. I like it when people point at a picture, among a selection in front of them, and say “That’s one of yours, isn’t it?” I can’t see the point of it all, if all you do is emulate other people’s work.

I belong to a local Photographic Society, where several times a year visiting lecturers gives talks on his or her speciality. Most times I can admire, but what they say or show doesn’t affect me greatly. Just occasionally, however, an hour there can set your mind racing off in directions you were not expecting.

Two or three years ago, a young lady (she must have been all of 30) arrived with the most ancient of manual SLR cameras, and a single fixed 50mm lens, to give a talk on Taking pictures of Flowers. We all looked down our noses rather snootily at her camera, and thought the worst – we were in for a boring evening.

I was absolutely transfixed. Her pictures of flowers were like nothing I’d seen before. They were almost abstract, impressionistic, colour washed images with an ethereal beauty which suited their subject perfectly. A million miles away from the sterile “everything in focus” way Club photography tends to approach such a subject. I was hooked – I’d never bothered to take pictures of flowers before, but I certainly did after looking at this lady’s work. Well done her, and she probably never knew about the conversion she had made.

I’ve also never been into portraiture or people pictures. It always struck me that it was a bit like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Physics. Here, if I understand it correctly, the position or the momentum of an atomic particle is changed by the act of locating it, so you can never know both accurately. In photography, when you point a camera at someone to catch a mood, or a look, the act of pointing the camera at them changes the look to something different – which is exactly what you don’t want. So setting someone up for a portrait would not give you a “real” picture of who they were – what you would get is the picture of who they wanted you to see – a very different animal indeed. Rather like someone presenting themselves at an interview, and we all know how false that can be.

So getting a natural picture was almost impossible, and I didn’t bother. Until a Dutch ex-newspaper photographer came along and showed how he took real candid pictures, with the predictable results that I, and a few other like minded individuals said, “Now they’re the sort of pictures I want to take”. They were unforced, they showed life as it actually was, rather than as the participants wanted you to see it, and another convert was made.

Recently in New York, I tried it all out, and was tolerably pleased with the results. You get a lot of failures, but it’s the ones which aren’t failures which make it worthwhile.

So this may sound like an e-sermon, which, given it’s Sunday over here, is reasonably appropriate, but this is Proof Positive, to me at least, that if you keep listening and watching other people at work or play, sooner or later, you’ll learn something important.

Now, I’m off to ask one of my offspring to borrow a Rap CD.


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