These are not ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, but ‘Seldom Asked Questions’ because I can’t really see much point in discussing photography or photographers as it’s all just a question of taste and preference anyway. But here are some questions that I’m sure some people might ask if I did. This is also by way of an explanation of how some of us image nerds think!
Q. Why don’t you take normal pictures?
A. I do. If you mean ‘normal pictures’ to be pictures of where you went at the weekend, the cat lying on his back with his legs in the air, a sunset over the back wall in the garden, etc then I do, occasionally, just like everybody else.
But they have nothing to do with other interests in my life that I sometimes choose to illustrate by using a camera. And those things being very diffuse and elusive – thoughts, feelings, observations, memories etc – are not concrete enough to be photographed of course. So I will sometimes use allegories, symbols, equivalencies, allusions and metaphors or whatever you want to call them in the image to tease out reactions and answers to diffuse and elusive questions. There’s nothing new or strange about that, artists do it all the time and as I share in their spheres of interest much more than in a technical recording of objects or events, I attempt to do the same. I’m not saying I succeed though, I’m just saying that’s what it appears to me to be. And in my case I find myself using a camera instead of a brush, for example.
Q. So you use a camera because you can’t paint?
A. Yes, you could say that. I would love to be able to paint, but I can’t. I would love to be able to draw, work with sculpture, work with ceramics, sketch, blow glass, write novels, sing etc as well but I can’t. So I do what I can.
Q. What photographers do you like?
A. I don’t. That is to say I prefer to like certain images that some photographers take. It’s just like your favourite band. There are good albums they made and then there are the ones the record company wanted them to make. By that I mean it’s easy to pick on ‘famous names’ but that results in including all that they have done and I can’t do that because there are plenty of, even award-winning photographers, for example, that produce many mediocre images, in my opinion. Besides, it draws attention away from unknowns that have also produced wonderful images. One fantastic shot from them will be far better than ten mediocre shots from a famous photographer.
Q. Well, what sort of photography do you like?
A. I don’t. It’s the same question almost. For example, I like the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. But that doesn’t mean I like that type of photography when other photographers have a go at it. He leaves most others behind in that genre of course and has produce timeless classics, and it’s the images that I like, not necessarily the genre.
Q. Well what do you think about modern photography today.
A. I try not to think about it. Some is very good, for various reasons, but there is much more that just leaves me wondering and definitely unmoved. But that’s true of most art forms probably I suppose, particularly when they appear to be just riding on the latest movement or trend.
Q. I just don’t understand some of your work. Why would you even take such photographs?
A. In one way I don’t, I make them, there is a difference. But a recurring theme is ‘the extraordinary in the ordinary’, if that helps. I realise sunsets and so on are glorious but they overwhelm and shadow normal life and I’m a great fan of the mundane, being what it is in its humbleness and I feel like championing it sometimes. Maybe I’m visually left-wing. Or they might be concerning memories, reminders, dreams, feelings, visual pleasure, hidden horrors or who knows what; something else that wasn’t in front of the camera at least. Apologies, I know they can be demanding. Just give them a little time to see if you can find something there.
Q. So what photography has an effect on what you do?
A. None in particular. Anything I like I will take onboard for any reason I fancy and leave the rest behind. That might make me a dilettante in academia’s eyes but I’m too old to care. I enjoy photography as an art form in my case quite simply. I can’t concern myself now with other people’s concerns about what I do and their personal vision of what they think photography should be.
Q. What do you recommend if I wanted to start.
A. I don’t. Everybody should go their own way. That’s the beauty of it all. Anybody who is into portraiture, for example, would obviously not ask me for obvious reasons; I haven’t a clue and I don’t care. But I would definitely encourage them to pursue it though and take the path that feels right for them. Any other way could cause unnecessary conflict.
Q. What about equipment?
A. Charles Fort once said “One measures a circle, beginning anywhere” and he was right. Mobile phone, 10 x 8 stand camera, cardboard pinhole camera, Polaroid, 35 mm film, medium format digital. Beg it or borrow it first and go on from there. The magic is automatic in all cases. Any image is an image to get started! Later on you can consider all the posh stuff, if that’s where your aim is.
Q. That doesn’t add up to much as advice or help. There must be something you can offer?
A. No, not really. I am where I am and I do what I do because of what happened in my life and I suppose that has affected what I do now to a certain extent. And that presumably is the same for everybody, everywhere. Where you might go in photography only you can find out.
Finally, if you’re still reading this then I suspect you are considering looking a little closer at photography. So therefore I am definitely encouraging you to take it a stage further. They say everybody’s a photographer these days, because of mobile phones. If that’s true then, assuming you have that kind of mobile, you are already on the road. Now start walking along that road. You never know what’s waiting for you around that bend!