One of my greatest challenges is always moving past the step that I am standing on. It’s always so comfortable just hanging around doing what you know.
When thinking about my photography and where I sit and where I would like to be, I visualise it as a bit of a ladder. I am not particularly ambitious and I don’t react well to competitive environments. However there is an ambition in me that is never quite realised. That’s the need to be able to create beautiful images that have the same appeal or impact as those that are made by photographers who I regard as the best. Of course, a label like “the best” is always subjective and open to debate. To clarify, when I reference it, I am referencing a fluid group of artists and artisans. Some whose work I adore may not be regarded in the public mind as fitting that category. They are the group that touch me at this point in time. Some will stay with me forever, while others will move to my periphery – warmly regarded and sentimental but not necessarily pushing me at that moment. There are some in this group whose art is very recognised in the public eye. They are clearly the top of the pile at what they do and their broad recognition confirms that.
This to me, is what it is about. Finding those photographers, painters, sculptures, printers whose work moves you in some way. It moves you to the point that you may want to reference it or accommodate that style in your own work. It may just inspire you share new work. It may push you in new directions.
For 10 years I have been mentored and encouraged by Len Metcalf. If you haven’t come across his teaching you are missing something.
You will find Len here. https://www.lensschool.com
Len has been one of the gateways to my understanding of photography. So often, when I am looking for something, or I am stuck on one of the rungs, a chat to Len sends me away with a little spring in my step. It might be a word of encouragement, it might be an idea he sees in my work, it could be a reference to something I can chase up. I love Len’s photography but more than that I love what he represents for me as a photographic artist. He nurtures my talent and skills, he pushes me ever so gently and he opens new doors to my thinking. Above all, Len is kind and respectful of other artists.
I value my photo buddies. Sometimes you need to go looking because a handful of other photographers whose company you enjoy does wonders for your own growth. For me, sharing is what it is all about. If you find yourself working alone and a little isolated, there are some wonderful communities on the web where you can hang out. Find some other photographers who you trust, who are kind and helpful, who can talk about your work in positive ways and the added bonus would be, if you find some who make you laugh. I think a bit of laughter, a bit of joy and a sense of adventure go hand in hand for making images. And unless you thrive on competition above all else, I suggest you hang with people whose lives are not ruled by results from competitions. Please don’t take this as being against competitions, but as a photographer, if the only feedback I received was from competitive environments, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Broaden your base.
So back to my original question – how do I move past the step I am standing on?
I make lists. I love lists. Some friends set goals. Goals or targets are fantastic but they remind me too much of my years in education so I just make lists. One of my lists is very long and it keeps growing – Photographers to Follow. I have this list in my Bookmarks, I have another of the same name under my Twitter account. I also use Instagram but here I use the Collection tag – it appears directly on the right under the image. In my Instagram collections I have Photographers to Follow but I also include different genres and inspirations. As I watch TV of an evening with an iPad on my lap, I chase up some of these ideas. It is at that point I put pen to paper and begin to handwrite ideas, locations, books, articles, lenses and gear….. I use journals – some are practical and some are just random thoughts, words, ideas, possible titles. I have recently been working with Valda Bailey and Doug Chinnery as well as Jackie Ranken. All of these photographers along with Len Metcalf urge us to use Artists’ Journals. Or just call it a diary or a notebook if you prefer.
The theory is that we need to write, we need to note down ideas and inspiration when we are out and about. It might be a shape you draw, it might be a catchy sign, it might be a line from a book that you are browsing. Write it down! We are all such “device” people now. Don’t get me wrong – I too am a device woman. I love my devices – I use my phone to snap images when out, I use my iPad to explore editing directions. However, there is a connection between our creative minds and the physical act of handwriting.
One of the other things I am known to do when stuck (or blocked) is to pop into a local second hand bookshop. I have so many images that were created in response to something I picked up in one of the local bookshops. I always head straight to the art section. Not the photography shelves. The art section is always bigger and it usually has a broader range of subject matter and styles.
So what do I look for on the shelves? I can’t resist a Monet or a Turner. However, it is rare that I leave with one of these titles. I already own several and their art appears frequently in galleries, search engines and articles. I tend to pick up less known books. It might be a compilation from a gallery or a more detailed look at a painter, a sculptor, a naturalist, a botanical artist. I flip through until I find some colour, shape, emotion or texture that grabs my eye. And that is when my day dreaming begins. My mind runs through my back catalogue trying to remember scenes that have a similar feel. I wander off thinking about the next shoot and what I am looking for.
Today I did just that. I called in to my local and brought home 2 very different books. One is “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci” by Michael J Gelb. Packed full of ideas and inspiration. The other one is “20th Century Masters” from the Met in NY.
I have included a few images I shot and edited in the last few months in this post.
Enjoy the challenge!