Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Influences

It's been slow lately, what with winter happening and various family matters continuing to be a priority, so in the absence of any output of my own I thought I'd blather on about some other people.

No photographer operates in a vacuum. No matter how independent or original we think we are, there's always been those moments when somebody else's work has shaped our own direction. I'm going to use this post to go through some of the photographers whose work, attitude or reputation has inspired me.

A couple of disclaimers; firstly, I'm not claiming to be an expert on the history of photography, this is a completely personal and subjective rundown based on my own point of view. And secondly, I'm not suggesting in any way that I'm equal to any of these people; I could never be that arrogant. And to be honest, if somebody compared me to any of them, I'd probably drop dead on the spot from shock.


Don McCullin

It probably seems odd that a highly controversial combat photographer counts amongst my influences, but a photo tucked away in an old book pretty much shaped my initial conception of composition and the possibilities of landscape photography. While Don McCullin is known as a landscape photographer these days, it's seen as a kind of penance for his previous work when, in reality, he's always been a wide-ranging and versatile photographer. When I was getting into photography, my father's copy of the 1964 British Journal of Photography Annual was a source of inspiration. There's twelve pages of McCullin's work in there, all of which is his gritty, pre-combat urban work... apart from one shot, this incredibly moody Fenland landscape.


It captivated me when I was a kid, and subsequently I've come to admire all of his work. That's partly because as my knowledge of the world increased I became aware of the bravery of combat photographers (and the psychological toll that their work must exact on them) but also because, to my eyes, he's one of the masters of the classical rules of composition. And even today, I keep coming back to this one shot.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_McCullin


Mitch Dobrowner

Like many people, I first became aware of Mitch Dobrowner's work when he won the 2012 Sony World Photo awards. I don't think it's an exaggeration to call him the best when it comes to capturing weather, and more importantly from a photographic point of view, capturing that weather in the context of the landscape that it's affecting. He's got a very recognisable style that conveys a real sense of how intimidating and awe-inspiring real weather can be when you're far from shelter.



As well as all that, I was gratified to find out that I'm of a similar mind when it comes to the technical side of photography. Although he works with digital, he has a film background, and tries to do as much as possible in the camera, restricting post-production to things he could have done in the darkroom. It's always nice when somebody much better than you confirms that you're on the right track!

http://www.mitchdobrowner.com/


Colin Prior

A bit of colour for a change. I first came across Colin Prior... everywhere. I was on holiday in the west of Scotland and it seemed as if nearly every postcard, calendar and print for sale in every gift shop, cafe and convenience store featured his distinctive white border. It was my first indication that you can be a popular and corporate-minded photographer without necessarily compromising your photographic values, or dumbing down to reach a mass market.



Until very recently he shot the majority of his work on film, taking advantage of large and medium format to create panoramic prints. Visual impact comes from the incredible colours he - and his choice of Velvia film - was able to pull out of the shots, coupled with the ability to choose some incredible locations thanks to his hillwalking and climbing experience.

http://www.colinprior.co.uk/


Ansel Adams

The patron saint of landscape photographers, darkroom technical guru, arguably the inventor of high dynamic range photography, conservationist, and possibly the only photographer to have a mountain named after them. He's my favourite photographer of all time, and I latch onto his work for all the usual reasons. But there are a couple of reasons in particular that resonate with me, so I'll concentrate on those.


Firstly, his membership of Group f/64. Named after the aperture which would give greatest sharpness with a large-format camera, Group f/64 was a loose collection of like-minded photographers who rejected the pictorial school of photography - which, very simply put, aimed to imitate paintings - in favour of letting photography stand on its own as an art form. They valued realism and sharpness above all other things and eschewed the abstract and conceptual. The real inspiration for me is how bullish they were about it, publishing a manifesto and pushing their agenda in a manner that almost presages the confrontational DIY ethos of punk. I find it incredibly inspiring that anybody could be in a position to have that much confidence in their position and output, especially when the majority of Group f/64 were working photographers with commitments - it must have been a leap of faith to put that much stock in changing the status quo when your own livelihood was being supported by it.

Secondly, something I'm only just latching onto and drawing a lot of comfort from, is that Adams was always very aware of how his style was constantly changing. There's a lot of pressure to stick to a 'look' these days, but the reality of being an artistically-driven photographer is that your style changes with your tastes, your influences and your mood. Again, it's encouraging that one of the greats goes through the same things that I and presumably every other photographer does.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ansel_Adams


Honourable Mentions

Gustave Grey (Pioneer of composite exposures)
Yann-Arthus Bertrand (Aerial photography as art)
Anton Corbijn (Portrait photographer, film director)
Terje Sorgjerd (Timelapse artist)


So that's sort of my influences. I don't seek to imitate any of these photographers, merely to learn mainly from their ways of going about their art, but mainly... I just like looking at their photographs.