Thursday, 29 May 2014

Photographers block?

On a photography forum recently there has been an ongoing discussion about 'photographer's block'. A number of photographers have been airing their woes at this phenomenon and offering up their 'cures' for this affliction which seems to affect quite a number at some time  or another.
Toy 'Mozarts', shop window, Salzburg Austria.

For those engaged primarily in 'stock' photography, having to churn out a constant stream of images of almost any subject, that may or may not sell, according to the whims of the 'market', it must seem relentless at times. Under those circumstances I can see how, on occasion, it can become slightly disheartening and enthusiasm wanes a little leading to a period of disillusionment and inactivity. 

It's a truism of course that nothing breeds success like success and a fulfilled, busy and successful career with paying commissions rolling in keeps the mind buzzing with ideas. 
Bluebell woods, Ceredigion, Wales.

For those of us, like myself, for whom stock photography and commissioned work only accounts for a tiny percentage of our photographic output the problems are slightly different. With commissioned work the 'ideas' required are largely ones of interpretation and execution rather than origination. With stock photography the primary motive is to make images that sell - hopefully many times over as individual fees these days are universally low - and across as wide a spectrum of publishing sources as possible. Both printed and electronic. The subjects of course may not necessarily be inspiring to us and it can result in churning out 'potboilers' with which we have no real intellectual connection. 
Illustration for a book cover

For me it all stems from my early, formative years in photography, when my motivation came from looking at the work of the great photographers that impressed me at the time and wanting to make work that might be significant and lasting. It seemed to me then that if I was going to devote my life to photography, why would I bother to spend most of that time churning out stuff that might jade my sensibilities and enthusiasm? Yes, a living had to be made to support - initially maybe - the kind of work I wanted to do. On that basis I acquired many skills over a wide range of photographic subjects so that I could confidently tackle almost anything. 

Cartier-Bresson V&A exhibition catalogue, 1969

I have already written about how seeing the work of Cartier-Bresson in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1969 - on my birthday - made me feel as if the work I was doing at the time was a relevant and legitimate path to be following. That my own work, in later years was acquired by the V&A - and many other major institutions and collectors - seemed to justify my single-minded determination to follow my own path through photography and to trust my judgement when it came to originating ides and producing projects. In my early teens I studied the work of people such as Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Bill Brandt. It never, ever occurred to me that many years later my work would be exhibited alongside theirs in the Photographer's Gallery, London. 
Splott, Cardiff, 1969

Is there a moral to all this? People say I have been lucky to keep on doing what I love for nearly sixty years now and to still be working full time on projects, full of ideas for more and to have many ongoing exhibitions and books on the horizon. My answer is that I have stuck doggedly to my original reasons for devoting my life to photography and have always followed my dream. On that basis how can I get a 'block'? I seem to have been on the crest of one wave after another for over fifty years and there is always another coming up.  Maybe some have made more money from the 'potboilers' but photography has provided my living since I was fifteen. I suspect few have been as content as me over such a long period and I regard 'retirement' - full or partial - as surrendering and entering God's waiting room.