The Driving Force – It’s that bare time when the Christmas tree, decorations and unused wrapping paper get assigned to the boxes, cupboards and lofts, not to see the light of day until September when the TV adverts remind us that Christmas is a mere day or two away. Due to an ‘orrible lingering cold and the time set aside to keep the Inland Revenue from the door, this holiday seems to be a week longer than usual. As a result I get more time to gather my thoughts and prepare for the New Year’s work commitments. In truth, my year begins with allotted time to do the aforementioned annual accounts … but it invariably never works; it’s funny how many other jobs need doing first – cleaning the car out, taking that present back to the shop, washing up, even removing the moss off the shed roof all seem more interesting! Today is no exception. After all, it is Friday … I know I have more urgent things to do, I am snowed under with receipts, red books and statements, and yet here I am pondering on one of life’s more urgent and pressing questions … what drives us as photographers?
A good friend of mine of approximately 30 years and probably the reason I became a photographer, holds the key to what inspired me in the first place and continues to inspire me now. He won’t mind me saying but for years as a journalistic photographer he went from job to job with probably little interest in his subject matter beyond capturing an essence of the scene to later illustrate in the local paper.I have always admired his work and dedication. His people, personal and photography skills are superb and second to none! Indeed, he has won national awards that many photographers could only dream about doing. Then one day he took a trip to Canada and returned with some of the most exhilarating and wonderful images of wild bears bathing in a river. I can remember being blown away by the images and his buzzing account of how he made them – if memory serves me right he was up to his armpits in the river not too far from the bears. When I visit his house to this day I am reminded of the experience as the images are proudly displayed in large frames on his stairway wall. But more importantly, his desire and excitement of the experience is represented within those photographs. There for all to see is his drive!
Earning a regular crust as a photographer can be a roller coaster at the best of times. There are no guarantees, no easy bucks and no secret formulas. Over recent years I have often questioned why I am photographing something that I have absolutely no interest in – as an example, an advertorial commission for a local company to photograph pork pies on Studland Beach in front of thousands of bewildered holiday makers, who were thoroughly entertained every time the sand blew and ruined the image. The rattle gets thrown out of the pram and I question why I said yes to this! (I still do 7 months later) I fail miserably and take heart that we’ll be driving our camper onto the ferry to France within 24 hours for a two week holiday. I digress.
Art or Illustration?
A continued theme I introduce to budding photographers is “art or illustration?”. How do we approach what we do? Do we look at a composition with a view to record it as seen, or do we take the view to interpret it as we want it to be seen? Now to answer this I think we need to ask ourselves how we draw inspiration to drive us forward as photographers. Surely it has to be more than representing a scene before us. I do know if I had to be inspired to photograph pork pies on Studland Beach every week I would be hanging up my metaphorical photography boots. So, for me, solely illustration definitely does not inspire.
What’s the secret?
Whether we are illustrating or making our own art requires fundamental ingredients, not least the camera gear capable of producing the images, but also the skills to use the equipment too. Of course, both may have a factor in inspiring us; I haven’t yet met a photographer who doesn’t enjoy that excited feeling when taking delivery of a new camera or lens. Equally, when we learn new skills and perfect a procedure, it can be uplifting and encouraging. But is it what truly inspires us to go on? There will always be new things to buy and learn. Chasing awards won’t cut it either: the continued battle to attain a level will only stifle and frustrate you. It will not necessarily inspire. Winning is a fleeting experience and not lasting, no different from a popular ‘like’ on social media. It does not last and it’s very easy to find oneself at the bottom of the hill looking up again!
The Driving Force
The driving force to go on and be inspired has to be firmly planted within our psyche, in our desire and ability to capture anew something we aspire to. The uplifting experience of making the image will last forever, will inspire forever. Once it is there it will remain: you won’t remember what lens or camera you were using; neither will you remember or concern yourself with what photographic skill level you were at that time. As the new year gets under way and we look for inspiration, look ‘within’ and enjoy what you do!
Have a great New Year everyone; and remember, if someone asks you to photograph pork pies … don’t!