Learning to See

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I spent years wandering around with a camera working to achieve pictures my mum would like.

Photography, like art is subjective, right? My mum for example, likes nice scenery. The type of photo you’d see on a postcard.

She paints watercolours. And they’re of a similar nature. Nice, scenic views of the great outdoors.

So, when I was (much) younger, the challenge was to find beautiful landscape photos.

Let’s be clear about something first, though.

This wasn’t about trying to please my mum’s taste in photos. Not really. It’s about the broader issue of taking pictures that suit as big an audience as possible.

So, game on.

I’d used Kodachrome 64 slide film. I had a slide projector and a screen.

The family were all waiting to see my latest work. The year was 1981.

Good effort, but too nice…

I’d taken the photographs using my little Agfa Optima 35mm compact. It was by far my favourite possession.

I was nervous, though. Because my mum liked art. And she viewed photographs as a piece of art. An attempt at fine art, anyway.

So, I’d gone to the expense of loading up my camera with a roll of Kodachrome 64 ASA slide film.

After that, was the further expense of getting the film developed and turned into slides.

That was all done. And the projector cartridge held my slides. It as time to show my work.

The photos consisted of various trips around the nicer spots of Warwickshire. I guess you’d classify them as landscape photographs.

The viewing went well. Mum seemed impressed everyone made the right noises and I was a happy photographer.

A few days later, I showed them to my photography teacher at school. He did the thing where you say: good work but have a think about these things…

He suggested that the photos were too… nice.

Trying black and white

I went out an bought a roll of Ilford HP5 ASA 400 black and white film. Then, I headed into our city centre on a cold, dull winters day.

I shot the old streets and cathedral — looking for shapes and patterns.

Next, I developed the film in the school darkroom and printed them up, too. I used the dodging and burning techniques I’d learned.

I showed my photographer teacher the results. He liked them, telling me they had much more life.

Thrilled to bits, I took my prints home and showed my mum. She didn’t like them at all. They looked wrong, too dark and moody, she said.

Therein lies the argument. I was 16 years old at the time. But I’d started a quest that would last me another 39 years — right up to now, in other words.

Trying to work out what kind of photographer you are happens to everyone in the end. Or, it does if you take a lot of photographs.

When I switched to black and white Ilford film all those years ago, it opened up a new world to me.

I still prefer to shoot in black and white. That’s not to say I don’t use colour — I do.

Adding some colour…

I use colour to try different projects. Lockdowns have meant getting out to do the wandering around with a camera I like to do these days, difficult.

I’ve looked elsewhere for subjects and to be fair, I’ve done a decent job finding them.

But…

I’m back to the age-old argument about what kind of photographer I am. You can see from the photos on this blog that I shoot a variety of subjects.

I still prefer to shoot in black and white. I still prefer moody scenes that tell a story. And so the discovery continues.

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