Friday, 28 October 2016

Getting to Know Me.

Back in my early days as a photographer I thought of myself as being engaged in an artistic pursuit. The problem was that I never understood what made an artistic photograph. It was obvious that certain pictures had a lot more about them than the average snapshot, but I had no idea where the line should be drawn between ‘artistic’ and ‘not artistic.’ Take the following for example:

At the time I thought it said something about the contrast between the natural identity of the tree and the human artifice represented by the church. And I thought it said something about longevity and the nature of passing. And I thought that the relative weight and position given to the figure (of my then wife) made a statement about which element had the shortest span of all. Now I think it’s just a very average snapshot, as I’m sure most people would.

Several years later I was visiting a London publisher, having by then established myself as a landscape photographer whose job it was to illustrate books and magazines and suchlike. There was a woman waiting to be interviewed for a picture researcher’s position and we fell into conversation. It occurred to me that if she got the job, she might one day be useful and therefore worth cultivating. (How terrible is that? How opportunistic? How very businesslike! But I did, I’m sorry to say.) I said I’d wait for her and invited her to have coffee with me in some nearby establishment.

When we sat down she started asking me what I thought made a good illustrative photograph. I began my answer, and after about twenty minutes of non-stop talking I realised just how much I’d learned about the nature of illustrative landscape photography. It quite shocked me.

And then the penny dropped. The reason I’d never known what made an artistic photograph was the fact that I’d never been an artist. I was an illustrator, and a half decent one at that, but not an artist. And that, I think, was the beginning of the ascent into humility.

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