I always give a little chuckle when someone describes themself as a ‘self-made’ man or woman. The first thought that goes through my head is that it’s nice of them to take the blame. You see, no-one is ‘self-made’. We all grow up being influenced by people, from family to school friends and, perhaps most importantly, teachers. These influences continue on into adulthood, though arguably more subtly.
Of course people we never meet can have an influence too. The authors of the books we read are a good example. As are the photographers whose work we see, whether in a book or magazine or online. I know I’ve been influenced by a huge range of photographers, only a handful of whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting. (Some photographers I’ll sadly never meet because they’ve passed on to that great darkroom in the sky.)
One of the ways we can grow as photographers is to look at the work of others. Not, I should add, to slavishly copy the work of those photographers. (Though copying is a way of learning, as long as we don’t try to pass that work off as original afterwards.) The aim should be to absorb visual ideas and to synthesise those ideas to create something unique and personal.
Now is the ideal time to be doing this. Partly because, well you know… Lockdown. But also because the interconnected modern world makes it easy to search for and find the work of pretty much any photographer you can name.
Who to search for though? Well, my particular interest is landscape photography so the obvious choice for me are other landscape photographers. Your interests may well be different. So that’s settled then? We look for photographers working in a similar field to our own. Well, yes… and no. (Though not necessarily in that order.) It’s also a good idea to look at the work of photographers working in different genres. I own (far too many) books about landscape photography. But I also have books on documentary, wedding, portrait and (weirdly) fashion photography. This is partially because I appreciate all types of photography, but also because it’s all visual stimulation, and it helps me think in different ways about my own photography.
For me, the most exciting photographers are those whose work has a magical quality. You can look and look at their photos and can only end up shaking your head sadly, unable to figure out how they ‘saw’ and shot those photos. It’s a wonderful intellectual challenge to pick apart their photos to try and understand how they were shot. What lenses do they use most often – wide-angles, standard or telephoto? What lighting do they typically prefer – natural or artificial, hard or soft? Those sort of things. Fortunately, some photographers are generous in the information they provide, and give you exposure and lens details. It’s fun though to try and figure out the same for photos shot in the pre-digital era.
Anyway, you may – or may not be – wondering who has been the greatest influence on me as a photographer? Thank you, I’m glad you asked. Here are five of my photographers heroes and heroines. I’d heartily recommend you look them up. (And as a small challenge, once you’ve looked them up, which of the five listed below was an influence on which photograph on this page?)
Martin Parr. Very definitely not a landscape photographer, but a mordant commentator on the modern world. It’s the humour in Parr’s work that particularly appeals.
Ansel Adams. Adams had to be on this list. Every landscape photographer has to be aware of Adams, even if it’s just a case of name recognition. He also promoted the idea of national parks, to which we should all be eternally grateful.
Joe Cornish. Arguably Britain’s best known and most influential landscape photographer. I spent several years wrestling with 5×4 cameras – sometimes successfully, more often not – because of Joe’s influence on my photography.
Andris Apse. It’s Apse’s use of space and light in his landscape photography that particularly appeals to me. Working mainly in New Zealand, his work just makes me want to get on a plane and make the long journey there.
Rosamund Purcell. Purcell’s photography isn’t going to be everyone’s taste. But I think it’s wonderful. She collaborated with another hero of mine, Stephen Jay Gould, to produce two thought provoking books about museums and their collections.
Those are mine. Now, who are your influences. Let the world know in the comment box below…