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Photography and Personal Vision : Stories We Tell

 

‘Photography is nothing - it's life that interests me.’ - Henri Cartier-Bresson

‘A photographer’s work is given shape and style by his personal vision. It is not simply technique, but the way he looks at life and the world around him.’  Pete Turner

‘There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.’ Ansel Adams

‘Photographs are of course about their makers, and are to be read for what they disclose in that regard no less than for what they reveal of the world as their makers comprehend, invent, and describe it.  Allan Douglass Coleman

Vision is everything, and the photographic journey is about discovering your vision, allowing it to evolve, change, and find expression through your camera  and the print …. It is about what you …. Find beautiful, ugly, wrong, harmonious in this world ….The stories you want to tell, the things that resonate with you – they change and so does your vision. Finding and expressing your vision is a journey not a destination’. David duChemin

 

 

 

Launching a Basket Boat, Nha Trang  (Kitty Wright) 

 

 

The digital age has seen an explosion in the ease with which photographs can be taken and produced. Yet for most people ‘taking a photograph’ is not viewed as a creative activity at all but as a simple, practical and functional process – the products of which are often little valued (and often almost instantly discarded). This is partly because it’s so easy to use digital technology and picture taking is universalized by inexpensive cameras (and cheap printing in the High Street or internet and home inkjet printers). Mobile phone cameras have strengthened this trend. Images by the million are taken without a great deal of thought and with little skill needed. In addition, photographs are such a major part of the mass media– more so since the revolution in printing quality and techniques since the 1980s -  that they are taken for granted as ‘ information noise’.

 

In the 1960s, Ansel Adams reflected, ‘I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term -meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching - there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.’


Yet photography can be a serious and significant form of creative expression. Every individual has a range of characteristics, experiences, interests, values, tastes and informal and formal knowledge which they can potentially bring to photography. We are all ‘embedded’ as social, cultural and historical products influenced, for example,  by the political problems, practical pre-occupations, fashions and technologies of our time and place.

 

However, we are not passive ‘products’  of our context – the human condition is that we have the capacity to reflect, interpret and analyse what we see as important. In essence, this is the attraction of photography – potentially we can all create our own vision and style and photography can be seen is a fascinating platform – even a battleground – for ideas and debate.

 

‘Photography is not about cameras, gadgets and gismos. Photography is about photographers. A camera didn't make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel’  Peter Adams


‘If the photographer is interested in the people in front of his lens, and if he is compassionate, it's already a lot. The instrument is not the camera but the photographer.’  Eve Arnold


‘Ultimately success or failure in photographing people depends on the photographer's ability to understand his fellow man.’  Edward Weston


We live in a very visual world and our views and prejudices are highly conditioned by images. For example, I recently spent three weeks living with a delightful Arab family in Aida refugee camp in the West Bank, just outside Bethlehem, while working on the Images for Life Project, teaching young Palestinian photographers. One of the explicit aims of the project is to try to create a body of photography to counteract the most common – largely hostile - visual portrayals of the Arab world in the west.

 

While much of my recent photography has been in Palestine, Cuba, Morocco and India, it is a major mistake to think that interesting and significant photographs are the product of expeditions to exotic landscapes or societies. ‘Art is not to be found by touring to Egypt, China, or Peru; if you cannot find it at your own door, you will never find it.’  Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

‘You can find pictures anywhere. It's simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what's around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy’.  Elliott Erwitt


Learning to understand – and ‘read’ - images is an important critical skill to possess in the contemporary world and for the committed photographer the medium of photography can become a major  way in which an individual sees, understands and mediates the ‘real world’. At the very least , photography stimulates a much more acute observation of the world and it gives a greater access to it.

 

‘Images at their passionate and truthful best are as powerful as words can ever be. If they alone cannot bring change, they can at least provide and understanding mirror of man’s actions, thereby sharpening human awareness and awakening conscience.’ Cornell Capa


Photography is one way to explore and to try to understand the world in which we live. It may be the human world or the natural, but the committed photographer has an inquisitive mind and is trying to make sense of the real world and their place in it. This is maybe why so many people with a full experience of life find photography so fulfilling and challenging.


‘The strong desire to take pictures  is important. It borders on a need, based on a habit: the habit of seeing. Whether working or not, photographers are looking, seeing, and thinking about what they see, a habit that is both a pleasure and a problem, for we seldom capture in a single photograph the full expression of what we see and feel. It is the hope that we might express ourselves fully – and the evidence that other photographers have done so - that keep us taking pictures. ' Sam Abell


In a recent magazine article, travel and documentary photographer Steve McCurry gave the following advice to photographers, ‘Being curious about life and things around you is an essential part of being a good photographer………….. You need to keep your heart and mind open. Life is flowing in front of your eyes and you need to be open to respond and allow yourself to be touched by things that are extraordinary and let it change you. In time, you start to develop your own way of seeing and then it’s your personality coming through the camera. We are unique and our photography should reflect the way we see things. Get inspiration from others, but don’t copy them……..  Spend Time photographing things that matter to you. Understand the things that have meaning to you and not what others think are important for you.’ (Professional Photographer Magazine, January 2010)


In practical terms, the implication is that the photographer does not work on isolated subjects or produces single ‘award-winning’ images (too many Camera Clubs are dominated by competitions of this kind) but spends time on projects which require an element of continuity and a return time and again to the subject matter – whether it is understanding a community or a landscape – or both. For example, my experience in documenting a farming community in Devon and living in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem both instilled in me a deeper understanding of the lives of quite different communities.

 

 

 

 Newspaper Seller, Old Delhi (Kitty Wright)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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