Behind the camera - studying the photographer

The photography podcasts I enjoy the most cause me to think, I was listening to an older episode of TWIP last week and Frederick Van Johnson was catching up with Rick Sammon. Rick quoted Freeman Patterson (from his book ShadowLight) “a camera always looks both ways” - in other words, the photographer’s pictures reflect or say something about the photographer themselves, their story as well as the subject. Freeman Patterson writes that this doesn’t necessarily apply to a single image, more a body or the development of the photographer’s work. It’s not a new concept, but nevertheless it made me consider my photographs as well as that of other photographers.

I don’t see myself directly in my photographs, or in the subject - the type of people I am drawn to photograph - nor in specific moods or expressions, I also struggle to see myself directly in the progress of my work, although there are certainly bursts of energy or productivity; that may need more analysis, or more photography. But on a deeper look, perhaps I see myself in the style or approach and I think that is the essence of the comment. From the point of view of street photography, we are of course all different in our methods, as the genre itself is, but there are characteristics in individual approaches - do we photograph sympathetically, cynically or critically, from a point of view of love or of disliking what or who we photograph, perhaps from a political or social point of view too.

I know that I am obsessive, quiet - not seeking or wanting to be the centre of attention, I am certainly curious and interested. Also impatient.

Perhaps that has manifested itself in my style of being constantly moving - I mostly move around “hunting” for the photograph rather than finding a place and waiting to see what comes together - my impatience perhaps. I photograph close - curiosity, but unobtrusively, preferring to be unnoticed.

I am really conscious that the act of photography does not change the subject - this is important in my street photography and not seeking permission to take the pictures is fundamental in not changing or interrupting what is happening around me. Thomas Hoepker said on seeking permission, “if I had asked you, I wouldn’t have the picture - or else the picture would be a lie.” My motivation is to record real life and real lives, the relationships, our world and time. The same approach applies to my personal family and travel photography - I don’t get excited capturing smiley faces looking at the camera, but I love the small, hidden, real moments.

Being invisible while taking photographs, I think I like the thought of being part of the photographs in this intangible way, as Freeman Patterson said the camera is looking at me too. Of course sometimes it can work the other way and the photography itself can change the photographer - it can be calming and certainly provides me a relief from life’s day to day pressures.

The real valuable conclusion for me is furthering how I look at other photographs and photographers - I really do enjoy looking at the work of others. Do I see other photographers in their work? Other than photographers that I know personally, I can only reference it from interviews of more well known photographers, whose work I have studied. Gilden’s self is obvious and he frequently speaks of actually seeking out himself and his parents in his photographs. What about humour - Erwitt, Kalvar, Parr - their photos seem consistent with their personalities. Perhaps Dougie Wallace though this feels more like social commentary. The more tranquil work of war photographers in their non-conflict work is fascinating - Bischof, Capa, McCullin - perhaps it says something about their striving for peace after or in-between the trauma they experienced for so long. 

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