A state of flux
I find myself in a state of flux concerning my photography – I have an inner division and restlessness about it. I began my photography in the early 1970’s and my main interest, very broadly, was landscape work. I’ve never been interested in wildlife photography, commercial photography, wedding photography and so on. The only exception has been an occasional dip into portrait work – and even then it was often more a case of ‘figures in landscapes’. My career was in applied photography working in a graphic reproduction studio – so the idea of photography as a job in which I worked for other people never appealed to me at all. My photographic hobby was always about the reward and satisfaction of pure creativity. I have never been interested in taking images for money or for clients, because that would turn my hobby into a ‘job’ – and into a chore. I am just a hobbyist. I do a bit more than take everyday banal images such as ‘Here I am at the local bar’, but in the grand scale of things, there are many amateur photographers out there who are much better photographers that I am. Nevertheless, photography, amongst other pursuits, has provided me with an outlet for my creative drive. But by the 1990’s I felt that my landscape photography had become increasingly stale and unrewarding. I had got into a bit of rut with it and then a period of academic studies came along that meant that I did not have much time for hobbies anyway.
I did not really take my hobby up again to any great degree until about three years ago, when opportunities in the broad category of ‘portraiture’ served to renew my interest in what was really a new area of photography for me. I enjoyed learning new camera and Photoshop techniques as well as about lighting, and along the way I learned by my successes and failures in various portrait projects. Eventually I ‘dipped my toe’ very slightly into the world of amateur photographic clubs as well as amateur and professional models. After a lot of practice I eventually produced a set of portrait images in a style that I had found to be inspirational for me, and in turn this took me to the limits of my technical skills.
I felt very rewarded and satisfied to achieve the kind of aesthetic and technical results that I had aimed for. But what then? The goal had been achieved and suddenly portraiture seemed stagnant to me. Sure, there’s inspirational work out there but it is beyond my capabilities. I know, it can be the same for landscape work as well – What? Another tree? Another river? Yet another sunset? When it came to portraiture this became – What now? Photograph a string of different models in the same style? Too much like a conveyer belt for me. That’s why I don’t photograph weddings or do school portraits and so on. What then? Go for different portrait styles perhaps? Well, as I say, many of the portrait styles that I like are beyond my means – they require large set ups as well as a team of people. But the plain fact is that I simply don’t like many of the different portrait styles out there. I looked at various images of different model’s portfolios as well as portrait images in photo club galleries as well as professional images on the web and in top fashion magazines to try and get some inspiration. But the local club/studio/modelling scene just seems to be satisfied with rather bland and sanitised portrait images to me. Or they like trying out various techniques. Undoubtedly, there’s some good stuff out there but for me, there’s often something missing in many of the more local amateur images. I just don’t like what is in effect the local predominant studio/modelling style of portraiture. It leaves me rather cold.
One problem for me with portrait work is that I am not a ‘people person’. I have an incredible knack for upsetting or offending people very quickly. I don’t even have to try. Charming, debonair, Cary Grant I ain’t. I’m not much of a ‘team player’ either, I want people to leave me alone to organise myself and do my best to contribute my part to the team effort – I don’t want people organizing me! So working with people is not one of my strengths. We used to joke at work that the trouble with the world is people! That of course is the beauty of photographing landscapes – there are few or no people – landscapes don’t get offended, criticise or have hang-ups. They don’t want to drag me off in a direction that I don’t want to go and they don’t say ‘I don’t want to be seen like that’. With landscape photography I don’t have to worry about upsetting the landscape’s ‘ego’, or ‘image’. Like we used to say, the world would be a great place without people.
The demise of my portrait work
So. My portrait phase seems to have come to an end. It was short-lived but very rewarding and challenging for a time. I’m pleased with the portrait projects I did and exceptionally pleased with some of the images and I very much appreciate the people who modelled for me. But I can’t see any new or interesting directions to go to in this area. It’s time for me to pull back. It’s no use me trying to force new and novel directions for ‘portrait’ work projects.
I have enjoyed creating photomontage images, where elements of different images are brought together to create a new image. These images are often fantasy images – fairies in woodland, a figure floating out of a tower, or a femme fatale in a nighttime noir setting. These images are fantasies because they either couldn’t exist in reality or they would be very difficult to ‘stage’. They often have a surreal quality – they look real, but not quite – and so on. Satisfying as the results can be, they take a heck of a lot of time and effort, such that once again, the ‘reward’ is not proportionate to the time, effort and technical skill involved. Even a simple photomontage can take two or three hours of intense Photoshop work, and more complex images can take days. Producing a final landscape image is, by comparison, much quicker.
I suppose this sort of thing is true of most hobbies. Building a bridge on a model railway layout would indeed take many hours of work if the modeller wants to create a realistic looking model. However long an aspect of a hobby takes to complete is not the issue, so much as the ‘reward’ or satisfaction gained from doing it. Too little reward, or little satisfaction means that the work starts to become a chore. And I suppose that this is what is happening with my photomontage work – it has started to become a chore rather than an enjoyable and rewarding pastime – so I think that it is time to turn to something else.
What is it all for?
‘What do I do with my images?’ I asked this question of other amateurs and like me they entered images into competitions, had vast collections of images on their computer archives, had a few on their phones or tablets to show around, and/or they printed a few images off to put in an album to show family and friends. Not exactly inspiring. Of course some put their images on the web, in one way or another. It’s been interesting to put some of my work on the web – a blog here, Flickr there, a few on Facebook everywhere. But quite frankly the ‘rewards’ do not match up to the effort required. Portraits, like photomontages, take a lot of work and time on Photoshop. Then the image has to be labelled and tagged and described and so on. ‘Rewards’ on the web consist of people ‘liking’ and ‘viewing’ the images – but you see, there lies the danger of ending up becoming a ‘compliment junkie’ like some ‘z-list celebrity’ who constantly seeks attention and praise from their adoring fans, constantly monitoring how many fans they have.
I really don’t want to fall into the trap of needing people to like my images. I like them – that’s all that matters really. The process of creating concepts and ideas, then taking images using those concepts and then completing those images on Photoshop such that they are brought to realisation and existence, really should be enough for me. I shouldn’t really need my ‘ego’ massaging. I do try to adopt the Bob Mitchum maxim of ‘Baby, I don’t care’. But putting images on the web makes it easy for me to become concerned about the number of ‘likes’ and the number of ‘views’ that each image gets. It would be the same if I sold my images – which images sell best and how many are sold? This kind of thing is a distraction from and a hindrance to my creativity. It also creates a danger that I fall into conformity to the mundane and blandness that is enjoyed by so many by ‘giving people what they want’. Yet at the end of the day, images are meant to be seen – they are, in part, created to be seen, they are not created just to be filed away on a hard drive or USB pen, out of sight. It is basic human nature that I want the people who see them to appreciate them, to like them or be moved by them in some way.
Time, effort and reward
Once again I return to the fact that the satisfaction and ‘reward’ that I get from creating my images falls considerably short when it is compared to the amount of time and effort that I put in to them – especially when it comes to photomontage and portrait work. I don’t want or need the pressure and distraction of constantly having to feed photoblogs, websites or apps with my images. I don’t want to be distracted by how many ‘likes’ or ‘views’ an image gets.
Really, I prefer not to care too much at all about what other people think about my images. Sometimes I show friends and relatives a set of images amongst which is a favorite image of mine as well as at least one very conventional, ‘safe’ image. To my dismay my friends often pick the conventional image as being the one that they like best. That’s their choice and taste, but as a photographer, I think that they are wrong. There’s the popular choice and then there is the photographer’s choice. In the same way there is ‘pop’ music and then there is ‘musician’s music’ – usually Jazz or Classical. I want to rise above other people’s popular likes and dislikes. It’s not easy though. My ‘ego’ does enjoy a massage now and then, like most people, however much of an illusion it is in reality. The thing is, I don’t want to be shaped, directed or limited in my creative efforts by other people’s popular likes, dislikes or even their indifference – I don’t want to be moved or constrained by their collective personal subjective tastes that usually do not match my own. As a hobbyist, I want to ‘do my own thing’ and enjoy the process of creativity for its own sake, taking satisfaction in what I have created. I am working for myself, not my audience. I am not trying to create a reputation or a successful business where I become concerned about selling my images. Hobbyists are in the great position of not having to work within the confines of other people’s ideas and values. We are free to do what we like.
But of course, photography, like most hobbies, is not an isolated endeavor. Photographers produce and create images in order for them to be seen. Photographers don’t create images to file them away such that it is only the photographer who ever sees them. Right there is the locus point of tension. The photographer, in some ways and to some degree, does need an audience. Perhaps this is the source of the tension and flux that I feel with regards to photography. I know that I am not alone. Poor film director David Lean, who made such great films as ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Dr Zhivago’ found critics comments of ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ to be so discouraging that he did not make another film for years. We lost something – we lost the films he might have gone on to make.
Computers and software
My faithful Dell computer is getting old! The software in antiquated, but then I really have not taken to Windows 10 at all. The time is fast approaching, alas, when I will have to change both, and since I don’t like my new computer or Windows 10 as much as present set up, then I can’t see me wanting to spend as much time on the computer creating images.
The rewards and satisfaction gained from portrait and photomontage work feel disproportionately weak compared to the effort and time involved in creating them, so I think that it is time for me to reduce my focus on these areas and return to my first love of basic landscape work, to hopefully create a better proportion between the time and effort that I spend in creating images and any ‘rewards’ that I gain. By focussing on landscape work it means that I am answerable to no one except, obviously, the legal considerations of the host sites terms and conditions. In addition, the fact that new a new computer and a new software system is looming on the horizon means that I will want to spend less time on my computer. On top of all of this, I also need to reduce my use of the web. The Flickr website maximises the most views with least effort, and although a personal blogsite reaches less people, it offers the chance to create a more personal site. Taken together with less time on the web and less time on social media – which I am not much of a fan of anyway, this will mean less time on my computer! Win, win, win! Surely that can’t be bad! Plus a bonus! More time for drinking ale!!! Dilly Dilly!