Having hit the ground running after stepping off the plane on Friday, I’ve now had a week to not just catch up on the ten days of work that I neglected, but to reflect on ten such special days spent in Australia for the AIPP Nikon Event 2013 of which I was invited to speak at.
Firstly, what an honour. Truly up there at the very top of the highlights of my career. I hold the Australians in high esteem for their work which carrys a quality that encapsulates everything I relish about wonderful, organic portraiture, world class. So to be invited to present to these incredible artists was indeed the most humbling invitation and a most incredible experience – I’ve realised that much of this vibrancy is down to the Ozzy attitude – a generous sense of sharing and togetherness amongst the photographic community struck me as a hugely positive element to learning through openness. Yes, the market there is saturated as it is here and throughout the world, but rather than alllowing this to suppress creativity, the many photographer I met in those ten days were nothing but enthused by each other and wholly supportive. A strong community indeed.
I’d already had an sniff of this attitude through my meeting on Facebook with an incredible young photographer, Vicki Bell. Vicki and I soon realised, over our late night Facebook chats, that we had many parallels within our lives, as creatives but not least, both having a daughter called Evie Rose.. She is a fabulous photographer with a huge heart which is wonderfully visible in her work. I love that how her work is honest and from her heart. With this, she is an incredible and enthusiastic ambassador for her industry. So, around 18 months ago, Vicki mentioned she was keen to bring me over to Australia. That’s one of those conversations where, for a moment, you see something that would be quite brilliant but actually, in reality, is unlikely to happen so put it to the back of your mind somewhat. A similar analogy to when you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine and think it would be a great idea to run a marathon!
In fact, let’s not stop at one, lets do three! At least I can’t be accused of being pessimistic..
A few months later, an email from AIPP organiser, Ross Eason was a casual enquiry as to what I could bring to Australia as a UK photographer – this followed up with a Skype chat which felt more like a job interview. I then heard nothing. I was always rubbish at interviews. Too honest!
Then January this year, I got the nod that I was to be invited as an oversees speaker at the Nikon AIPP Nikon Event in June.
After I’d come down off that cloud, the reality that someone felt strong enough about what I do, to fly me the other side of the world was really quite overwhelming, the honour was heightened by my understanding of the risk this could be for the AIPP – they knew of me, knew my work, but not so much as a speaker and teacher to a large audience. It doesn’t always work together, after all, I am primarily a photographer.
So my thoughts turn to the content of my presentations – two keynotes and one hands on workshop, showcasing my location portraits in natural light. The Workshop, was the easy part, with two models booked and locations sourced I was to spend a couple of hours with delegates setting up images on a practical teaching level, firmly encouraging the understanding of removing complexity and focussing very much on the fundamental elements which contribute to a great portrait. With this, a birds eye of my methods of communication and my way of working with children. A great location had been sourced for me, giving me opportunity to give a very typical view of how I work and the results I am looking for.
Here are a few of the images shot on my workshop day at Shene.
The Keynotes, I wanted this to be a frank insight into my world shown through words and pictures. My own experience in the current industry from travelling in Europe teaching and photographing, is that the market is saturated all over the world – there is a lot of passion out there for the art of photography. As a full time professional photographer, this can meet with challenges and can in some ways, be demoralising if confidence is at a low ebb. There is also perhaps, a lack of comprehension of the fundamental make up of good portraiture in addition to what can be an all consuming reality of running a photographic business of which it is all too easy to rely on shortcuts which in reality, lack longevity. So I felt my role, with experience behind me, was to, send delegates away with some aspiration – yes, it’s a great thing to be stood on stage showing my work, but what both newcomers to the industry and those who’ve been in the photographic world for some years need, is brutal honesty and the reality of my journey in order for them to see that the goals they set are attainable through professional attitude, learning the trade and being somewhat thick skinned.
So, I based my Keynote on some poignant moments in my career which have really helped mould my style and taught me about the business. A memoir starting right back in the ’80’s, the continual development of style, the importance of goals & being creatively selfish. I don’t mean in a personal sense, but not being distracted by trends and fads – doing what comes naturally to you as against that of the rest of the world around you. To go in the opposite direction and source inspiration from various areas other than directly within photography. Placing a value on your work – but in order to justify this, you need to have the skillbase in place, especially given the ability of the public to produce some quite lovely photography – the one thing that will set yourself apart is your product, that being the photography. You need to be demonstrating that your work is untouchable – that you have such a strong grasp of controlling light, of composition and creating something a little off the wall perhaps, as well as doing the ordinary very well – that you can justify charging higher fees. Shooting for yourself, because your client expects that, they expect you to be able to do something that is beyond their abilities.
The other area I wanted to touch on was the limitation of the camera. I see a lot of reliance on experimentation (nothing wrong there), but dependency on the back of the camera as against what is happening in front of you. To be very definite in how you compose an image through the viewfinder as against ‘winging it’, or reliance on the back of the camera to tell you you have it right – you should know you have it right. The camera you know, it’s just a computer – it doesn’t give you the nod when the light is perfect for that idea you have in your head. It won’t give you that idea. You are the artist – you create, the camera just records. This non reliance on the camera but more on the head and heart is a key part of gaining confidence in your own ability and knowing the limitations of yourself and that of your kit. One of my goals during my own development was to be able to go into any room, any environment, under any conditions and to be able to pull something out of the bag – to be able to walk into a room without a camera and see the picture I want. This is pure dependence on my own thoughts and ideas, not the capabilities of my camera. We need to perhaps be putting more pressure on ourselves, to push for that bit extra and to build on ideas in order to develop a picture and never be quite satisfied. Composing, thinking, recomposing.
Sadly, my time in Hobart was short as I had commitments back in the UK – and also ten days is enough time away from Lauren and Evie. My god it’s a long way… But I had the most incredible time – my liver is still protesting! From an incredible evening at the Mona Gallery created by Tasmanian milliionaire David Walsh, a Nikon hosted fundraising party through to the final gala dinner. And in between all this I feel I have made friends for life – including affirmation that Vicki Bell is as lovely as I thought she would be. I was lucky enough to spend time with photographer Tony Hewitt who also MC’d much of the event. Take some time to look at his work – he has that rare versatility whereby his style is easily translated into any genre he works in. I had witnessed some of his wonderful aerial scapes before my trip, I had no idea that he was also such a fine portrait artist. Yes I’m jealous of his talent – but with that he is a pretty amazing person and made me feel at ease immediately. Every year at the AIPP convention, a fine art portrait, printed by Epson, is auctioned at the event – the chosen photographer being the previous years subject who then chooses their photographer to photograph. So last year, Tony’s portrait was auctioned, this year, he chose to photograph Vicki Bell who invited me to ‘sit in’ on the shoot. Oh the glamour of throwing buckets of water at Vicki! The final print was auctioned during the Nikon party – I mentioned earlier that enthusiasm was rife within the Australian industry and this was evident in the auction of Tony’s print raising funds for Prostate Cancer research, the chosen charity of the event. With bidding getting into silly figures between Nikon Australia and DigiDirect – the two agreed to match bids of $3500 and both parties each to receive a signed print, raising a staggering $7000..
With the Mona Gallery being such an instrinsic part of the town of Hobart, installations not restricted to the gallery, you get a great sense of artistic freedom amongst the town – see below for random turtle hot air balloon on the way to the airport.. what better place to host a get together of creative minds and visual stimulation. And perhaps similar to our own Tate Modern, much of what you see isn’t perhaps to your taste, but you come away with that great feeling of ‘anything goes’. That’s always a good way of looking at our own work I think rather than placing everything in a premeditated design box of formula and templates.I remember that same feeling many many years ago when I was around 20 and I went to see a photographer called Stephen Swain – he was the photographer of the moment, introducing a whole new way of looking at wedding photography through the eyes of photojournalism. This was a revelation after the static control of the 80’s – a new era. I came out of his lecture feeling inspired but couldn’t quite nail as to why. I then overheard another photographer saying “he’s just given you licence to do whatever you want. Anything goes.”
In addition to my own work, I was able to sit in on the Tasmanian print judging – an open judging, giving photographers the opportunity to learn from judges comments on their own work and that of others. The work itself, was world class.
Above all, this convention opened my eyes to how personalities can place themselves into imagery and affirming a true celebration of photography – very much instilling fun as an elementary part of the learning.
Perhaps that is why there is such great humour injected into the Antipodean work, that wonderful dry sense of humour which resonated throughout the imagery that I witnessed..