Sunday, 20 January 2019

Thinking About How My Photography Has Changed In 30 Years

A blog by a photographer I follow on Google+ prompted me to think about what I get out of photography and how it has changed for me since I first picked up a camera over 30 years ago. Very simply, I photograph things that interest me – predominantly old machinery and railways; Australian ‘scapes (land, bush, rural farms, city, sea), candid street shots of people, and studio settings from formal portraiture, to glamour to baby shoots. So what is my style? Do I fit a mould? I don’t think so. My style is mine and it is varied and changes all the time. I don’t like labels so style means little to me as it is just a label.

I do recognise that within the various types of photography that I practice the style changes. As an example the vast majority of my machinery and railway images have been purely documentary. Thousands of the images are published on Steam & Engine of Australia and in various subject magazines around the world. At some point I stopped photographing the machine for the sake of it, and I've concentrated more on subject and composition looking for something “different” in the familiar. I have photographed the Puffing Billy Railway at nearly every possible location from those frequented by the tourist snappers to those secret spots very few people know how to get to. Thanks to tools like Google Maps these spots are now accessible to anyone as it is usually simple to figure out how to get in.

My railway images are moving away from capturing the machine to capturing the people who man the machine and to nuances of the machine and its surroundings that make for a compelling image. Instead of heading straight for the traditional side on shot of the locomotive I've found myself lying in track side ditches being blasted with steam and oil as the locomotive passes and up poles trying to get a good unusual vantage point. From time to time I head to a spot intent on capture of a particular scene only to become obsessed with something on the way there and completely ignore what I set out to do. My quest has changed from documenting the thing to what image I can make. Now I more often photograph interesting compositions using all or part of the machine.

My 'scape photography has moved on too. Initially it was holiday snaps. Today I make serious attempts at capturing colour and form. I despise getting up early but find myself shivering in the dark waiting for the warm dawn light to arrive. I fear the unknown in the dark but find myself traipsing around the grungy areas of cities looking for interesting night time exposures. Subjects such as light houses fascinate me – it isn't unusual for me to drive half a day to get to a spot in time for one of the magic hours. These experiences help me grow. Stepping outside my comfort zone is important to me.

I used to grab whatever was around me – now I plan my journeys using tools like The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE) to pick spots in advance where the sun (or moon) will be at just the right angle. I find myself visiting and re-visiting a location because I wasn't happy the first time or because I thought the place had more to give in a different moment. I visit the locations where images of others have been created to see what I can do – not to copy their style or to better it – just to challenge myself.

I watch the images of others as they appear on social networking sites and if requested offer my critique – am I better at it than them? Of course not I am not better - only different. I’m quite happy that when I put up an image and ask for critique that I can accept what is said and give their suggestions a genuine try. Sometimes I like the outcome, sometimes I don’t. The key for me is to listen and try. This is always tough because it involves ego. Check it at the door.

Mostly I work alone, but from time to time head to a shoot with others. A simple reminder to “look behind you” at sunset or a question about why I’m using a particular setting prompts thought and new interest. Some things become automatic – the challenge from another can help to resume seeking the new.

I have broadened my own horizons and get a great deal of enjoyment out of my photography, but recently something has surpassed that. My youngest son has taken an interest. I go out of my way to provide opportunities for him to practice the craft and find his way in this hobby. He has Asperger's so his brain works a little differently to mine – for the same subject matter he will pick a composition that I would not have thought of in 1000 years. Some of his images simply amaze me. I look forward to the day that I attend an exhibition of his images should he choose to follow that path. I hope he does and will ensure he has the opportunities. It is up to him to take them, after all if he stops enjoying the craft then there would be no point in continuing.

I’m content to do what I do continuously learning and where I can pass the experience onto others which explains why I organise photowalks and workshops. Apart from being fun, they're a terrific two way learning experience where fellow passionate photographers can collaborate.

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