I’ve been taking photographs since the mid 60s and then more seriously since 1974 when I acquired my first SLR. I complemented this with a pocket camera which I always carried with me (click here for my camera post).
I’ve been pretty diligent in photographing my life, its events and the people involved and I’ve got bookcases of photo albums and, more recently of course, gigabytes of storage to prove it. More recently I’ve been cataloging the latter and even published a few photo books alongside with my ‘take a photo everyday’ web-site (click here) which I describe as a photo diary. I also confess to a little light Photoshop activity.
So OK I take lots of photographs, lots of people do nowadays with their smartphones making it so easy to do, but does that make me a photographer? I’m prompted to to ask because a photographer who’s vlog I follow (click here) talked about photographers having their own styles. If that’s the case then if I am a photographer what’s my style?
To answer the basic question ‘am I a photographer?’ I guess you need to start by asking why I take photographs. I reckon I do so to chronicle my life. The photographs themselves are not the end result but they are a part of my memories. Sometimes they are the only tangible part although where holidays and family trips and many business trips are concerned they sit alongside a written diary. But taken together and mapped out over time they record what I’ve done, with whom I’ve done it and what I’ve experienced. And during the 80s and 90s and beyond much of what they recorded related to my family as it grew up.
It’s a pretty comprehensive record. There’s life in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Switzerland and the UK. There are holidays including Mediterranean beach holidays with Clare and Charles in the 80s, and trips to Asia, the US and Canada, South Africa, Australia and closer to home. Plus quite a record of work related activity, I’ve always been big on the idea of photographing the team as a way of defining it.
But there are also surprising gaps. For example we lived for two years in Wilmslow but there’s only a patchy photo record, perhaps that’s because it was not a very happy time, there’s an almost complete absence of anything from my time in London in the 60s but that was in pre-SLR times, and I’ve only captured what you might call complementary memories in recent years. It’s these complementary memories which are the aides memoire which add to the narrative and include houses lived in, boats boarded, meals taken, books read and venues attended.
Based on the foregoing I’d say no. Taking photos is just a means to an end and not an end in itself. And yet …
I understand photography. I was taught by my father and got a good dose of optics in physics at school so I understand shutter speed, aperture settings and ISO, and I appreciate their combined impact not just on exposure but also on depth of field. I’ve developed a taste for what makes a well-balanced composition and I accept the rule of thirds as a useful guide. Plus and finally I recognise the deficiencies of the camera and the role of the computer in correcting them. So I would venture that I’m more than just a picture taker.
There’s a little more evidence to support this. Alongside my photo diary I publish a photo of the month, when I’ve been on holiday I post an album related to it, and just recently I’ve published a showcase of my chosen 25 photos of the year (2018 and 2019). I do catalogue my photos and I’ve been spending a little more time than before fine tuning some of them in Photoshop and Lightroom. That’s hardly the behaviour of one who just takes photos.
Let me qualify my comment about Photoshop etc. Fundamentally I do not use Photoshop to alter the picture. It remains as taken. I confess to a little light cropping, to the removal of distracting stuff, to adding a little background blur and to compensating for the camera’s inability to correctly expose for light and dark at the same time. I don’t do Disneyesque colour modification, I don’t add what wasn’t there, and I don’t do special effects.
So if I am a photographer what’s my style? The cop-out answer would be eclectic. Because of the range of subjects which I photograph it’s difficult to define anything more specific. However whether it’s people or objects, the inside or the outside of buildings, or landscapes I do favour a ‘full frontal’ approach. I like the subject to fill the frame and I prefer to avoid shooting at an angle whether in the vertical or horizontal plane. But you’ll see lots of examples of me breaking those rules and occasionally I’ll come up with shots which are positively minimalist. Maybe if not eclectic we could say pragmatic?