I’m currently signed up for a flexible two year MA in photography at Falmouth University. Part of the process is keeping a critical reflective journal, which throws up lots of questions about where you’re going with your photographic practice. With this blog, I’m going to look at certain themes that the MA explores which are questions that anyone else interested in photography can ask himself or herself. Not every part of the MA is of general interest but there’s a wealth of insight that you can explore in relation to how and why you or I might take pictures.
One of the first questions in the MA that came up was:
“What is your motivation for photography? What do you want to learn about and how can photography help you get a greater understanding of it?
I had two periods of taking photographs in my life before the work I do now. As a child and until my late twenties. These were often generic holiday snaps or stiffly posed pictures of friends. All on film, as this was the late 70s, early 80s and early 90s when generally the only option for an amateur photographer was to click away, post off the film and wait for results. I’d always loved images and certain photographers but never thought about exploring as to whether I had a natural talent in this field.
Move forward to my mid-forties and I now had a smartphone –an iphone6 - that offered a wealth of opportunities compared to any previous model I’d used. I was also travelling around the UK for work so I started to take more pictures and start posting them on Instagram. I was never going to be interested in pictures of artfully arranged plates of food or sunburnt legs on the beach but more architecture, unusual moments and nighttime vistas are what really appealed to me.
At the same time I played around with product photography and short videos- due to my job in publishing - with various levels of success. In the end I decided to create two separate profiles as I felt the work pictures relating to books and promoting authors contaminated what was becoming a creative journey with my own images. The work related pictures tended to get in the way of any pictorial narrative I was on at that moment.
At first I messed around with the various Instagram filters (inkwell, moon and lofi being my favorites) and editing in a very crude way but then found taking a picture through the phone camera instead of the Instagram app (but then using the app to edit the image) gave me more freedom and the picture quality was much better.
I started to get great feedback – mainly with the architectural images - with some of the images being picked up by image libraries and one of the pictures being used in a paper-based in Surrey. This motivated me to improve and to share what I was creating. It might feel corny to say but it started to give me a purpose and even made my day-to-day job more enjoyable. I had always wanted to create in an artistic way but I didn’t know what that might be until this point.
Photography has given me a medium where I can always improve and always learn. There is no end game with expanding your knowledge and there’ll always be something new to see despite the jaded nature of our present times. It is a connection to the world at large and I want it to be the best it can be.
I really want to understand how to curate those images and also understand why people may prefer or relate to one of my pictures more than another. Before taking photography seriously I wasn’t sure what my place in the world was or how to engage in a way that had meaning for myself. I feel I do now. It’s not so much about seeking recognition or praise for every picture but it’s getting unexpected feedback from your peers or complete strangers that is always rewarding for me.
In a strange way – and definitely due to taking on the MA – I’m realizing what my strengths and weaknesses are. When it comes to strengths I think my pictures are very much “mine”. There are hundreds of shots out there of the same thing but I feel my pictures can easily be identified as being shot by the same person with the same vision. My weaknesses are trying to understand where I go on this journey and moving from an iPhone to a “proper” camera. Perhaps the phone is actually a better medium for me but I want to explore every option.