Inspiration vs. reason

A friend asked me over the Christmas break how I manage to retain my drive for taking photos. I gave it some thought over the past few days and thought that my answer might be useful or interesting to other photographers or artists and so here it is.

The short answer is simple: I don’t have energy or inspiration to take photos all the time. Basically, I don’t force myself when I’m not in the mood and I don’t force things when there are no reasons to take photos. Doing so generates bad photos, which are seldom used or reviewed.

My main inspirations, in terms of photography, are threefold. First and foremost, I take photos for myself and my family as a kind of visual diary. From holidays abroad to self portraits, I take photos of my life. But: I photograph my life; I do not live to take photographs. This is probably why I have never wanted to be a full-time professional photographer and why I have, so far, been commercially unsuccessful. When I begin consistently spending more time on photography than on other aspects of my life, I know it’s time to take a break.

I like to show other people the world through my eyes and take travel photos; as I live abroad, even trips locally are inspiration, whether on the daily commute or out at the weekend. Most of my travel photography has both personal and informative aspects: whether documenting a wedding amongst friends or telling a personal story about a place I’ve visited. Many of the documentary photos I take have a personal aspect to them, some of which I share and some of which I don’t. After all, I am usually in a place for a reason and often with my wife. Ask me about one of my photos and I can almost always tell you where it was taken and why I was there.

My second inspiration is closely tied to the first: landscape photography. I used to dislike taking landscape photos, preferring to take pictures of people. (Of whom more shortly.) Then, in the mid 1990s, I started travelling and began to better appreciate the areas I was visiting. My primary influence at this time was a friend from the camera club I used to visit, Francis Spooner, who has a huge amount of experience in touring and creating superb traditional landscape photographs. With the kind loan of his medium format twin-lens reflex camera when I visited the English Lake District, he indirectly inspired me at the beginning of what will be a life-long appreciation of the classically studied landscape photograph.

The third of my main photographic inspirations is the infinite variety of the human portrait. Images of people were probably the reason I first started taking photographs on a regular basis, from family to school friends. The combination of facial expression, figure, clothing, environment and (in some cases) a connection with the person in the photograph make every photograph unique. In some instances, I aim to tell the viewer a little bit about the subject; in others, the shot is a fleeting moment of a stranger on the street. If it weren’t for the reticence which so many people show when a camera is pointed in their direction, I would probably take more portraits than I do; either of strangers or of friends and family. As it is, family are particularly patient with me when I demand that they be photographed, a fact which makes me happy as it lets me add to the ever-growing collection of special memories with them.

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