Inside this issue
Stunning B & W images of the mountain bushland of Australia
Richard White lives in Mansfield, North East Victoria. He has a Master of Photography with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography and in 2010 was awarded their highest honour, a Fellow of the Institute. For the past 15 years Richard has produced the multi award winning black & white calendar on the High Country of Australia, produces a range of b&w greeting cards and has just released a limited edition book, Places I've Been with a High Country book scheduled for next year.
Since the origins of photography people have always been fascinated by the process. I often asked myself how on earth does it work? Isn’t it just amazing that we can record what we are looking at with an instrument! Even today with digital and analog photography, although I, like most, just accept it, I still marvel at the way it all works.
Since Niepce, Daguerre and Talbot introduced photography to the world, others took their inventions and expanded on them. When Kodak introduced the first “acceptable” digital camera to us mere mortals in 1991 others, as we know, have taken that invention and made it what it is today. (In fact the first digital camera was invented by Kodak in 1975 and then made by others in more complicated formats after this). The same ‘invent and copy’ has applied to motor vehicles, televisions, mobile phones and many other things. Someone has taken an item and added something of there own to it and, hey presto, we have a derivation of that initial product that as a rule, but not always, is far superior.
Undoubtedly the greatest invention of them all, the power of speech started somewhere, and was changed, adapted and improved (in most cases) so that today as a species we can communicate where ever we are in the world. The same, I would like to think, has happened with photography. People saw the chemical process, were excited by what they saw and it’s potential to record day to day events and didn’t look back. Even today we reflect on the greats of the medium and marvel at what they did. Although in my view, some have obtained that level of greatness through clever advertising and a desire by others to expand their piggy banks, because they see that person as ‘marketable’. Yes just another commodity.
Today I think it is near on impossible to be taken seriously as an artistic photographer because photography is so rife. The whole standard has been lowered and many just don’t see the value in it as they use to. Technology has played a huge part in this turnaround and finding a way to rise above it rather than just treading water is really the only hope.
Some months ago I wrote another article for another magazine called, “Dare to be Different”. My subtitle was, “When you run with a pack of wolves it’s easy to behave like one”. Photography in general is run by the wolf pack.
So now that I have all you budding photographers reaching for the razor blades, what is the solution? That of course is the $64,000 question. It’s not easy and it’s not quick, but one thing that is very important and what I may suggest is, find your own style. Something that photographers have been trying to do for ages. Many succeed of course, and many don’t.
When we begin to photograph we as a rule start out by copying or being influenced by others. One of my first influences was American photographer Galen Rowell. I heard about him because I was pretty heavily into travelling and wanted to improve my travel photography. Rowell gave me great inspiration, as did the National Geographic magazine and pretty soon I was looking very hard at Sam Abell and Jim Brandenburg’s work, Jodie Cobb as well. Then I discovered Ansel Adams, Brett Weston, Bill Brandt and John Sexton, and on it goes. Through my appreciation of their work my own began to change. I started to see things differently. Hopefully I combined a bit of each of what I found in them and developed it into my own style, and this I think is one of the keys.
I recall some years ago whilst I was teaching a workshop in the High Country here in Australia, I walked up to one of the participants and asked him how he was going and he replied that he wasn’t too happy. This took me back a bit as I know he hadn’t been left out of any of the things we had been doing and all effort had been made to include him, when necessary, in the field. Of course I asked why aren’t you too happy. “Well”, came the reply, “you aren’t telling me what to photograph”. To me this answer was just plain silly. I responded with, “I can’t see for you. I can only guide you with what you do see and go from there. I don’t have your eyes and you don’t have mine”. This of course was not what this chap wanted to hear. It only added fuel to the fire.
Also at that moment I recalled the great line by Cartier-Bresson, “The negatives are the skin off our eyes”. I did however refrain from making such a comment for I really felt he would have been deaf to it’s meaning.
Later that night I found out the reason why this workshop chap had said what he had said. He showed the group his portfolio of images he had brought along. They were mostly copies of Australian photographer Ken Duncan. Well known images from one of his books. Almost to the letter. Now I fully understood why he had asked me such a question. It was obvious that he had no vision of his own or was too insecure to explore one.
This is often the problem when one is trying to develop his or her own style. They reach a point where they stagnate for a bit, then start to copy the work of others that they like, but unfortunately are unable to go any further. This of course eventually just leads to frustration and before you know it, the camera stays locked in its camera bag.
By all means copy someone who’s work you admire, but you must add something of your own so as your work takes on a difference. It’s imperative that you do. The following illustration may explain my thoughts.
We all go to movies. If you are an American action movie fan then most times the plot is spelled out for you and it is not too complicated. Often lots of car chases, exploding petrol stations, helicopters buzzing around, guns going off at 20 to a dozen and, well more of the same. In the UK, things are a little more subdued, the plot is not as obvious and you actually have to think a little. And then of course in Europe, the style is totally different to the other two. Often stylish, sometimes confusing and more often than not engaging. Petrol often doesn’t get a look in and things seem to be a lot more measured. Australia seems to have a bit of everything, but uniquely Australian.
What I am getting at here is that each (country) has their own style, and it is quite distinctive. When a film really stands out from one of these countries it is often because a certain director has risen above his country contemporaries, because of his superior style and has produced a masterpiece.
It is all down to style and vision. John Ford made mostly great westerns in the 40’s and 50’s. Polanski still makes compelling films as does Scorsese. Woody Allen has always been different and quirky and often it is easy to tell it is one of his films. Bergman was different as was Peckinpah. They all had their own style. They all saw things differently and one of their major attributes was that they were determined. Determined to make the film their way, with their vision.
I would suggest that if you want to develop your own style in photography that you study the work of the masters. The pioneers of the industry who stepped outside the square and rose above the norm. Those who found their niche and worked tirelessly on their technique and on their vision. They pushed the boundaries of what they were doing and were relentless in the pursuit of their goal.
I recall back in 2010 I wrote another article for a magazine titled, To Strive, Seek Find and not to Yield until you do when in pursuit of an image or really anything that you are passionate about.
We have good days and bad days. Sometimes we see further than others and I believe when this happens it is because we are alert and attentive and we have prepared ourselves for just these times. What we have studied comes out to bear fruit and so often it is why we rise above mediocrity and produce something of great value. It’s not the camera or the fancy software, it is you that have seen something and decided to record it in a style that is you. What more can you ask.
Whether it is colour or black and white, it doesn’t matter a hoot as long as it works. I photograph both and usually only decide when I come across a scene which it will be. Many seem to think that I don’t like colour images or that I feel digital photography is of the devil. I am sorry that they have made up their mind about my likes and dislikes without consultation. Maybe I will meet these folk one day and set them straight. All they need do is ask the question.
However it is a well know fact that my preference is for b&w images, however I do love good colour ones and some of my favourites are by Jim Brandenburg, Sam Abell and my friend Joe Cornish. There are others of course, just as I love many b&w photographs from many photographers. Consistency is something I enjoy with photographers rather than the one shot wonder which usually is attached to the music industry.
No one has ever said that photography is easy, pushing the button is easy, but making a compelling photograph that others respond to is the hard part. I think all imagery is somewhat personal and reaching a standard that appeals to others is really the difficulty. Nail the technical as quickly as possible so you can put it behind you forever and then concentrate and work on how you see and maybe the reasons why you respond to certain things. For I think that so much of what we photograph is a representation of who we are and our view of the world.
Tap into your senses and let them come to the fore when you are out on the hill or wherever you are making pictures, and don’t be defeated if you have a bad day, for they come with the territory. And finally when you do make pictures that you like and get the courage to show them to others, show them with conviction and confidence, and if the response is not what you expected, reconcile it with the fact that whoever you are showing them to perhaps has no taste. That’s what has kept me going for so long. Best of luck.