Sunday, 22 November 2009

Let's get this straight.

Many years ago, when I was younger (well, almost ten years younger.. I suppose that's not THAT long), I had the notion that I would like to be a professional photographer. I knew a lot about gear, I knew what different films did, and I thought I could take an alright picture. I burnt through film like there was no tomorrow and exploited my staff discount at Paxton's Chatswood for all it was worth. A year later, I enrolled in a commercial photography course at Ultimo Tafe, where I would spend the next year really learning about photography, and more or less having my spirit completely crushed. The idea being that the commercial world was so cut throat that you needed to know your shit back to front, and it had to be good. Really good. If you weren't going to make it at college, there was no way you were going to make it out there. I think this was a great thing. It was more or less an ethos of "get good.. or get bad marks..". And half the teachers didn't really care if you failed, it was your choice. I actually did pretty well. I blitzed most subjects, except for the Small Business Management subject, which I failed, and never bothered to complete (meaning I never actually graduated). Ironically, this subject was the one which required foresight and the resourcefulness to propose how you would actually go out there and make a living- which at the ripe old age of 19 I didn't have, or just couldn't be bothered. I worked for a while, assisting and shooting, and did okay, but not well enough. The big hole of 2002 sucked up all the work I was getting and I found myself in need of a solid income, so I got a job at Optus and let my soul be raped by the monolith of the corporate world for two long years. Somewhere between then and my last paid photography gig not long after, I decided to call it quits as far as being a working photographer was concerned. Something had changed.

That something was digital. Digital meant that anyone with a few grand could call themselves a photographer. And they did. It's taken a long time for digital SLR cameras been of a capability which I consider actually rivals the performance of film, and I haven't had the cash spare to acquire one, so the closest to shooting digital I come is taking pictures on my iphone. There is a lot that can be debated regarding the skill level of someone who started off shooting film vs. someone who learnt on a digital, but this is not my point. What I want to draw attention to is the fact that many, many people go and spend their money on a digital SLR, and just shoot. In more cases than not, they haven't actually taken the time to learn how to expose and compose an image. They'll fluke a good one here and there, and generally have a few tricks they fall back on which get them through.

While I was flicking around Facebook tonight I found a girl who works as a photographer, simply because someone I'm friends with "became a fan". Her work absolutely epitomises this.

To be fair, I'm not going to name her. And just incase she, or anyone in the images comes across this, I'm not doing this to be mean or nasty, I'm simply critically analysing the work for the greater good of the photographing community, and for that matter their clients as well. I've met the girl in question, and she's lovely, however I feel her work is incredibly sloppy, for one particular reason I'm about to show you.

As I flicked through a few of the albums, I was absolutely gobsmacked at how ordinary the work was, yet she's a working photographer. She's charging (and people are paying) good money for work which my teachers back at Ultimo would have locked me in the film loading room until I promised to sell all my equipment and apply for a job at Target (to be fair, they were really, really hard. And I'm sure people that work at Target are very clever. You get my point though). What stunned me even more was this.  Check this small sample of images out, and tell me what you see.

(Hidden behind a break because I got seeing these ugly photos polluting my blog... Critique continues..)

Did you notice something? Not one of those shots is straight. All of them are badly composed, and shot on some dodgy angle, in an attempt to make the image appear dynamic or 'edgy'. Okay, to her credit, she does occasionally shoot straight, as we can see in the next image..

But to me, this just sums up what is killing photography as an art form today. People relying on cheap tricks to make their images look good. A digital SLR and a copy of Lightroom does not make you a photographer. Blood, sweat and tears does (from a good eye) does. If you're an aspiring photographer, please, take this as an encouragement. Go buy books of the great photographers. Study their work, find out everything about what made them tick and what made their images so great. Analyse the photos. What is it about the images that makes them work? Read your camera manual. Read books about technique. Turn your mode dial AWAY from AUTO and onto MANUAL! Learn how to use it! Learn what all those extra buttons do. Read books on composition. Try all these things out for yourself. Be hungry to learn more. Never, ever, ever allow yourself to think you know everything. If that happens, you've stopped growing, and you're bound for a fall.

On the flipside of all this. While the en masse adoption of digital cameras might mean there's far more crap photography being made, it means that those creating truly beautiful art stand out like crazy. So go do it.

I thought I'd be a nerd, embrace a cliche and put up some pictures by a man who I think is one of the greatest photographers ever to have lived. Henri-Cartier Bresson. Always inspires me to go grab a camera and do some living.

till next time


PS a friend just mentioned music photographers. Don't even get me STARTED on music photographers.


1 comment:

Gemma-Rose Turnbull said...

Nice rant. I couldn't agree more. Turn the damn camera straight!