Is it possible to know where you will be in five, 10 or 15 years? Will you be in the same job? Perhaps you’ll create a family or relocate entirely. Right now, I’m wondering where I’m going with my photography and writing interests. I don’t have the answer but questioning by James (photographer) has led me on an insightful discovery tour within myself.
Advice received during my first year of photography comes to mind. I should find my niche, identify the genre that captivates my attention and pulls at my heart strings; and concentrate my efforts there. I felt confused by this suggestion; I felt there was no need to search as I’d already found it. Why else would I seek the assistance of a landscape photographer? Today I understand what this experienced photographer meant. Yet, as I look over my growing collection of photographs, I concede, at the time, I had no idea of the vast range of options waiting to be explored.
In my four years of photography, the subjects of focus have been on a continuous journey of change. Morphing from one interest to something completely different. In 2019, insistent that beautiful scenic landscapes were my thing, I would never have considered an interest in people to have a place in my work. But why? My personal dislike of staged, beautifully posed, and made-up photography has a lot to do with this viewpoint. I wonder if hurtful experiences in my past, together with a general lack of trust, and a sense of fear of people and the risk of pain they can present, played a major part in this stance. Nevertheless, my world was about to be turned upside down.
Landscapes soon lost their appeal. The first shift in focus, away from solely shooting landscapes, to a more personalised and documentary style of work, was a forced transition and I had no choice but to adapt. With COVID-19 keeping us home-bound, I grew and learnt new life skills. I learnt to adapt and to see the inherent potential that lies within each day. At the beginning of the pandemic and lockdowns, my mindset was one of defeat and a strong sense of injustice. In hindsight, the shift in life circumstances has been a key factor influencing my personal and photographic progress. This is when Resilience: A year in pictures was conceptualized and created.
Today, my interest is shifting again. I’m still drawn to the powerful idea of storytelling through a series of photographs, but my focus is moving away from home towards the lives of people going about their everyday tasks in the wider community. I’m documenting everyday life in our streets. Items that are useful or have been discarded such as rubbish, catch my eye. Through my lens, I’m seeing the stories that underpin everything we as individuals do.
Such chopping and changing may appear erratic and not at all resemble the path of a respected artist. I find myself puzzled by the changing nature of my creations and wonder how good I could be if my focus was on one area of photography. But then, maybe I wouldn’t be any good because I was failing to follow what my instincts are telling me to do.
So, as I reflect, from the time I first picked up my camera to where I am today, the progression, the change in focus, and how it has evolved, begins to make sense.
Stage 1- Landscape
This is where it started. Landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, and interesting, artistic, abstract discoveries stumbled across while hiking or walking along the beach. The focus was nature, everything my front door that until now I had lacked the confidence and desire to leave the front door of my house to see.
As I began to focus less on my eating disorder, the world around me took centre stage and I wanted to explore it all. I can see why I started with the natural world. Having cut myself off from the world for a long time, I had a lot of rediscovering to do, and spend time becoming reacquainted with what many people take for granted. Jumping in headfirst, I did a lot of hiking and drove to faraway places sometimes accompanied, sometimes alone, just my camera, me, and my thoughts.
Stage 2- Documentary/ abstract
In 2020, when COVID-19 changed our world, we had to make sacrifices. For me and my newly discovered journey with a camera, this meant fewer landscapes and no more travelling. My focus became my immediate surroundings, my home. I documented life throughout each lockdown; this is when the idea for my book Resilience – A year in pictures was born. It’s also when I discovered the endless opportunities to experiment with a range of unusual and everyday household objects that many of us would never look at twice. Cutlery, carpet, curtains, lollies, water, oil, and the light from my iPad became tools that kept me interested and continuously learning.
Stage 3- Life
Since the end of lockdowns, my interest has veered towards capturing life. Every day and often, unseen moments in the form of street or, as I prefer to call it, life photography. I often wonder why I’m experiencing an ongoing change in focus and interest. Maybe I’m craving a greater sense of connection with others. When I look at street photography, I see unpretentious, subjectivity, and creativity it inspires. I also love that a photo doesn’t have to fall into the category of being an aesthetically perfect shot. People have warts, and there’s rubbish on the street, but that’s real life and it can become a beautiful picture to admire.
A lot of what I’m creating has personal meaning. I can look at it and see something maybe others don’t initially see. I see people but not posed people; I don’t particularly appreciate posing; it doesn’t feel real. People have stories, and looking at someone and wondering about their backstory is part of what appeals—backstory within the context of the surrounding area. I’m interested in more than what appears on the surface. Sometimes I see the evidence left behind and find myself taking pictures of abandoned shoes in many interesting and random places.
As my interest takes me in new and scary directions with street photography, my inhibitions are taking over. Street or life photography appears deceivingly easy. There’s no ‘wow factor’ in this genre of photography; all that is required of the person standing behind the camera is a walk into the city, point and shoot and presto! It appears this way I can take street shots and can call myself a street photographer. It is far more complex.
Yet, my biggest fear beyond the technical stuff is a fear of people! I’m not scared of walking past you in the street, the supermarket or in the school yard. I don’t have a people phobia as such. Admittedly, once, if I didn’t see anyone I’d be okay with that, but I’ve moved past that intense sense of insecurity around others. When it comes to walking around the city streets with my camera in hand, the very people that stir up an inner sense of curiosity within me are the people I don’t yet know but would love to capture and perhaps, sit down and chat about the mysteries of life.
Put yourself in my shoes and picture this:
You’re walking around the city streets in whatever state, or suburb you live. You’re intensely scanning the scene for something intriguingly interesting, but nothing stands out. Then hallelujah, a moment in time and you know this is it. As you bring the camera up to your eye you notice something. You’re surrounded and being watched intensely by a crowd; people you are hoping to capture and those who have yet to capture your attention. They either stare disapprovingly, look bewildered, or can’t get away fast enough!
This is when it all goes pear-shaped. Suddenly, an overwhelming feeling of doing something wrong overcomes me as I freeze and fumble around the settings of my camera. Fear of being confronted, yelled at, or upsetting another person sets in and the fun of the craft dissipates.
Unlike landscape photography where time is in favour of the photographer, when you enter the daily grind, among people living their everyday lives, getting from A to B, moments that are fleeting and the opportunity to capture that decisive moment is limited. There’s no room to switch off, to sit down and look away. Every moment has potential. This factor, timing, goes a long way in deciding whether I will make or miss the shot.
What I would like you to know
As I begin working on a new project, people who know me know that I’m not someone to fear, whether I have my camera or not. I’ve always used my camera for good and this will continue. I understand that some people hate having their photo taken and will dodge the lens at all costs. I’m guilty of this too but for my children, I’m trying to overcome this personal fear.
If you see me, be assured that my intentions are good. I have no desire to make a mockery out of you. I’m looking for moments in time to create a picture about life. I seek to capture ordinarily unobserved moments and am inspired by the possibility that I’ll stumble across something unique.
I am interested in people of all genders, occupations, and ages as they go about their day. Each photo provides a snippet out of the bigger picture that is life. I strive for photos that provide an aesthetically pleasing representation of our lifestyle. Such photos are candid and honest and may leave the viewer with a sense of wondering, intrigue, empathy, and humility. Yes, some may provide a chuckle but not at the expense of the subject because I’m not interested in belittling or humiliating anyone. Rather, I endeavour to reveal the beauty and diversity that is often hidden, and overlooked, in life’s daily grind and the stories within.
But why me? Why not a beautiful landscape?
I’ve seen some amazing landscape photographs. They have their place and I’m sure I’ll feel compelled to capture some down the track. Overwhelmingly, however, my instincts are directing me elsewhere. Landscape photography has played an important role in my development personally and professionally. It’s where I started, and I’ve learned a lot. But now my interest and attention are with you, with Fred the busker who plays the violin in front of the shops, it’s with the pair of shoes, neatly left on the edge of the footpath, it’s with the woman as she walks to the football with a life-sized cut out of Joel Selwood tucked carefully under her arm.
This next step in my personal growth holds important life lessons. As I learn about you, I will also learn about me. As my selection grows, an overriding theme will emerge and give direction for something new, inspiring, and captivating, for you and for me.