on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Joe Cornish and Charlie Waite

An Open Discussion - Part One

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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During the recent "Year of the Print" exhibition organised by Charlie Waite there were a couple of discussion talks with Steve Watkins, Editor of Outdoor Photography, as compere. The topic was open and questions came from audience members and social media. Here is the first of these talks - the second will be published in the next issue.

Audience: What is the secret of a great photograph?

Joe: Well I’m not sure if there is a secret. There is a great quote by Robert Doisneua who said “If I knew how to take a good photograph I’d do it every time” and I think that is probably true for every one of us here. I think one of the great things about photography is that it is an alchemy and so you cannot formulate the success of a picture. Another interesting photographer that many of you know of is Edward Weston and he at one point was on a purple streak and he said “I think I know how to make a masterpiece every day”, but he’s the only person I have ever heard express such a sentiment. I just genuinely think that it is a kind of impossible fusion of the day, the place, the moment, and your own flow, which is really important. Are you in the zone? Whether you are a sportsman or an artist, I think we are all familiar with the idea that there are moments that for whatever reason you become connected and you become like a transmission and somehow what you see as a photographer translates in to something that you cannot define or put your finger on. If we could, we would probably have written that book and would be living on the royalties.

Steve: I think the beauty of photography is that nobody has cracked it, so don’t burden yourself with the thought that you have to crack it in your lifetime. It’s a lifelong pursuit and you can relax and not think that there is an end goal. That is something that can free you up to enjoy photography a lot more, rather than thinking at the end of a trip or a workshop, “I will be a photographer”. First and foremost, you are a photographer before you go. If you have taken any pictures at all, you are a photographer. At the end of a workshop, you might have learned some more about how to improve your work or about shooting or thinking in a different way, but you’re not going to be a changed photographer at the end of a week-long workshop. They are just part of an entire process that goes through your entire life. Charlie, have you got any secrets on how to take great photographs?

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  • Nigel

    I don’t watch, listen to or read news on a daily basis (and see the article about Garry Brannigan in this issue). As a result I have only a slight acquaintance with what is going on in the world. But that is the purpose of my abstinence and my mental health has improved as a consequence. What I need to be aware of happens in my locality. I find out about by seeing it myself or by people I meet telling me about it. More that that is needless. So I can connect with the advice: “don’t go on Flickr or Facebook – you’d be much better served by some other input.” I too realized that I don’t want to read photography magazines. What they write about most of the time is irrelevant to me. (An exception for On Landscape? I think so – well I’m reading it!) Charlie’s mum provided good advice about the gallery. Can I suggest reading poetry too. Prose was described as words in their best order; poetry as the best words in their best order. Is there an equivalent aphorism for photography?

  • valdab

    I was gutted to have missed this talk so thank you very much for reproducing it here. It was every bit as fascinating as I had been told.

    I have an exciting new photographer to pursue (Wynn Bullock) – thank you for that Charlie. I’m slightly reassured that the same questions and conundrums that trouble me in the small hours also cause angst to the members of the panel.

    Photography today is a much more bewildering place than it was when I first got to grips with it 40 years ago. But it is so much more accessible now and rich with opportunities for creative experimentation. It seems to me that we all come to photography with varying objectives – me as a failed painter, other perhaps enjoy chasing the light or the meticulous preparation needed for long exposures. We have film, iPhone, Large Format, Camera Movement, Infra Red, Big Stopper etc etc. However we are all still trying to solve similar problems – albeit in very different ways. There should be some scope for individuality with so many options at our disposal!

    It is sometimes hard to remain focussed with so much visual stimulation so it was interesting to read the recommendation to reduce the time spent looking at images. We read about The Helsinki Bus Theory and the need to keep on keeping on. But we must also be mindful of not becoming stuck in a rut and reliant on an over-familiar and comfortable approach. Is it any wonder I toss and turn at 4am?

    I certainly agree with Steve’s recommendation of the Robert McFarlane book – a wonderful read that can’t help but inspire. And art galleries – fantastically inspiring places. I came away from a recent Paul Klee exhibition with a whole new idea of what colour can be. Maybe slightly less useful for those with a more traditional approach to landscape photography, but I believe viewing images that have very little in common with what we might produce can have enormously far reaching benefits for our creativity.

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