There are many methods used by photographers to develop their skills. But three really stand out. We work with them regularly to mature our vision, to bring clarity to what we want to express, and to refine the way we go about this.
Here they are in no particular order.
1) Share your images with others for comment and feedback. I like to print. Posting on the web or displaying them on an ipad will not do for this. You need to watch where the eye of the viewer falls and watch the expression on his or her face. Sometimes what is not said can tell you a lot. Join a club and bring along your images, form a small group to share and critique regularly, or tie your visitors to a chair and offer them refreshments in exchange for comments.
2) Work the same subject over and over. Try different focal lengths, different camera angles and framing and different lighting or times of day. For example, if you like photographing architecture, choose one building and work on it for a year.
3) Find some long term projects and apply the above two methods to them. This will help you understand what you are doing with your image making and where it is leading you. It will help avoid the “scatter gun” approach and enable you to be more focussed even when just going out for a fun stroll with a camera.
My first project was photographs of standing stones. I wanted to take the same approach I would use for portraiture: as if the stone were a living person and I would have to show something of their “personality”. I began this in 2007, focussing mainly on the stones at Avebury and the first exhibition of the resulting prints was at the Amuri Gallery in 2011. When funds and time allow, I would like to include the standing stones in Brittany and Easter Island, but for the time being this is on hold.
In 2009 I saw a video on the use of Photoshop for fashion photography, and was somewhat appalled that no hint of the model was allowed to come through in those images. I made a series of landscapes using similar techniques in order to explore my feelings about this. This week I went through them all using my current Photoshop workflow, and the resulting images were posted today in the gallery (look for “Symmetry”). Though it fundamentally changed the way I see the world, I don’t know yet if I want to take this project any further, so it is definitely on hold.
Taking a couple of hundred-year-old cameras to the Antarctic was a great privilege and learning experience. I am currently working with an even older camera to see if I can do a non-destructive conversion on it to 120 film. It’s looking quite possible. I would like to take this camera to South Georgia and do another series of Antarctic prints. However this is seriously expensive and hard on my body (I get seasick), so this too is yet one more project on hold.
So what’s current? The consequences of the earthquake here have slowed us all down here considerably, but I have been able to do work on historic workplaces and steam rail, and further research on the early and largely unknown history of photography. That’s enough to keep me busy, especially as I hope to incorporate the early film cameras into this work.
I have a little list for the future: working horses in winter, the “centres of the universe” on our planet, and something on the meaning of community and isolation.
Do you keep a note book handy? I encourage you to do so and write down anything that strikes your eye or imagination. See if you can turn it into a project. You may not be able to to follow through on every idea, but it’s the journey that’s important and not the destination.
Oh, and remember to have fun.