I have always enjoyed taking photographs but over the last ten years or so I have got a bit more serious, probably from when I bought my first DSLR a Canon 400D. Over the last 2 years I have moved away from the DSLR to Fuji’s mirrorless camp with a Fuji X-E1 and a Fuji X-M1. Shortly after this we joined our local camera club, the Beacon Camera Club. Moving to a more portable, lightweight system in the Fuji, married to the retro rangefinder like styling and I found my enthusiasm for photography massively reinvigorated. With this renewed enthusiasm, coupled with our joining of the local camera club, we (my wife and I) began to question why exactly we take photographs and do we have a particular style? A chance conversation at work and I was asked to bring in some old photos from when I was younger and duly went through the old box to find photos of me from various stages of my younger life and I enjoyed looking at the old photographs from my past. The topic of why we take photographs was touched upon at the camera club and the overall conclusion seems to be, take photographs for your own pleasure. I accept this, but I have felt compelled to explore this to perhaps “find my own style” or my special niche if you like, so I would like to explore this a little in the following paragraphs, as my photographic journey from complete novice to the lofty heights of “keen amateur” (my current self appointed ranking) has seen a lot of changes that have impacted on the photographs that myself and Peanut take.
Along the journey from novice to keen amateur a fundamental change has occurred in our photographs. Initially our photos were snaps, often of each other or sometimes us together, but as we became serious about photography we began to remove ourselves from the photos and a proliferation of epic landscapes, macro photos of flowers, street scenes from holiday destinations began to appear in their place. Photos of cars and watches appeared to complement features we might blog on those subjects. Without doubt the photographs had improved immeasurably from the novice days and yet they had also lost something, they were impersonal – we were not in the photos and yet these were supposedly our memories?
Somewhere along our photographic journey we had answered the very fundamental question of why do we take photographs? For us it was to diarise our lives and adventures, recording all the places we visit for holidays, or days out or with car clubs. It was to use the photographs to enhance short blogs or diary entries if you prefer, describing our holidays or days out and so on. A nice set of photos would accompany the writings and for us they have been great to look back on. And yet they lack something. What they lack is the personal. Four days in Venice will produce lots of views of Venice but only two or three shots of us in Venice, and you know what? When I look back at our Venice pictures my favourite is The snap above taken on my camera by a bloke I passed the camera to, so that he could photograph us! When a friend in work asked me to bring old pictures in, she wanted to see me as a young man, not a photograph of the Everglades that I had taken in 1980! And when I look back at my photographs, I want to see us back in ’93, or ’97 or 2005, not the car we were driving then, but us. How thin we were, how fat we were, how happy we were. Whatever, but we wanted to see us. Our journey then to the lofty heights of “keen amateur” has then resulted in some great but impersonal photographs.
Without meaning to sound cynical, it seems to me that almost everyone with a DSLR these days sees themselves as a great photographer, on the verge of becoming professional. But look on Flickr or 500PX and see how many brilliant photographers there are, it is very hard these days to make a living from photography and most of us will just be keen amateurs or gifted amateurs. Nothing wrong in that by the way, but that is why the best reason is “for your own pleasure”! In my case, my reason for taking photos is compatible with this but I now realise that my execution of this goal has been compromised by my efforts to be a better photographer, as so many of my photographs now lack the personal.
As a photographer I don’t specialise in any one field, such as landscape or wild life or portrait and I have never really found my own style either, I like black and white, I like colour, I like photos with a film like quality, so I guess I imitate the best in these genres. A recent speaker at the camera club coined a wonderful phrase for this – Karaoke Photography. It was meant dismissively but it really stuck in my mind and I have adopted it to describe my photography. The other phrase I have come up with is “Posh Snaps” because really it is the snap shots, the selfies that have longevity and the wider appeal. If you don’t believe me try a social media experiment; put your best landscape up on Facebook then put up a selfie or you and your friends and see which gets the most likes and comments.
To conclude then in our case we photograph primarily to diarise but sometimes to improve our abilities, and our style is best described as Karaoke Photography / Posh Snaps. Have fun asking yourself these questions.