This is a piece written for a web-based photographic workshop, but it strikes me that fundamentally the premises apply as much to creative writing.
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“Ordinary people do ordinary things in ordinary ways...
Extra-ordinary people do ordinary things in extraordinary ways...”
Now there is an interesting term with more elastic in it than anything this side of the world’s highest bungi-jump. It sounds larny, but what does it mean - if anything? What separates your ordinary, everyday-brilliant photographer with a good eye, who, just moving through life, spots these incredible things and with no fuss or bother, lines them up in the frame and
squeezes the shutter, to any other kind of photographer? There are 100 million sod-suckers out there armed with everything from cell phones to Sinars, who all see themselves as creative genius’ (and have at least a couple of pics to prove it). Why should they be any less exalted than say, you or I?
Well, the answer of course is that they are not, nor should they be. The digital revolution brings Andy Warhol’s old adage a great deal closer to reality. He said; “In the future everybody will be famous for exactly 15 minutes!”. His point was that the difference between Joe Soap and anybody famous was just in the degree of exposure or publicity that they
managed to garner in a public eye, or the mass media, . The means and the technology by which anyone might produce great images has truly become house-hold: everyday a little more accessible to everybody. Just on the law of averages; more people with more cameras in more everyday situations result in more images, a percentage of which rise above the background noise.
There are so many levels and dimensions by which a photographer might define themselves. It is the art of our age and it goes by the name of specialisation. Everybody can be an expert within one or other narrow definition. If you are any good, if you have even the least shred of
the most superficial talent, you could be any kind of photographer you like; wedding, portrait, studio, product, wildlife, underwater, aerial, archival, news, soft-feature, hard-feature, fashion, architectural, glamour, PR, sport, adventure, travel and so on and so forth - limited only by your own imagination.
So, for professional photography, the question becomes is there a life after Digital? I say a resounding YES, now more so than ever. I speak as an ex pro, who these days spends most of my time between breeding trout, putting on song-and-dance routines for recreational anglers, and publishing books about it and a great deal else, besides.
But that is another story and the moment I speak of here hearkens back to a time when, in a previous life, I worked very hard and with a certain degree of success at professional image creation. My client list included many of the biggest buyers of top end (big budget) imagery. Corporate boardrooms and advertising agencies were my everyday stomping grounds, where I spent long decades producing and selling imagery at such a rate as eventually to become
overwhelmed at the monotony of it all. It began to bore me, and I, no less began to bore it. The time came to get out and re-invent myself.
It began long before that, though. It began when I was about 19 years old, trying to busk a living from behind a camera, qualified for nothing, with no resources other than an abundance of unmitigated nerve and a particular talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
What has any of that to do with conceptual, as opposed to any other kind of photography? Well it does give me a particular perspective and for what it is worth, I share it for free (they’re all just labels of convenience, anyway).
Let me explain.
Fundamentally there are two distinct types of photographer. Firstly there are those who just have to take photographs. Some are better at it than others; they have an eye for a picture and may, to one or other degree, be inspired to capture the fleetest of moments within any dimension of the human experience. The really good ones attain a basic standard and quality of production that goes way beyond the odd lucky image. As an individual, the ‘reportage style’ photographer has to bring a unique blend of skills and insights into their interaction with the environment that is their canvas. More than one formidable reputation has been crafted off this platform.
But then there is another type of photographer entirely; the conceptual photographer. Their aim is to produce images of pictures that exist only in the mind. The only limits to the pictures that come from this realm are the constraints created by the combination of imagination, budget and deadline ( and Photoshop makes of it a whole new ball game).
While he/she may have started out as just another shutterbug with a good eye and a certain amount of inspiration, the conceptual photographer eventually tires of all the wonderful pictures out there just waiting to be taken. They dream higher and reach further, Not content with the world as they find it, or all of the magic and bounty of its nature, and its display,
they push beyond that boundary. These are not TAKERS of fine pictures, but something more; they aspire to become MAKERS of fine pictures. They want to capture images, not of things that on their own exist, but of visual contexts that don’t actually exist, except in the mind of their creator. In this dimension, photographic technique is merely a small part of the toolbox
that is used to create images that are larger than life. This is where images are produced first in the mind, where they might be seen most clearly with the eyes closed. Some call it creative photography, but to me, all photography is creative. And so I prefer the term Conceptual photographer.
Let us say that you are the client and I am the CP; you come to me with a brief. You want a picture of your 92 year old grandmother on a pair of trick-ski’s, being pulled by a Gary-glitter bass-buster outboard motor boat..... in a cup of coffee... with 2 little twirls of steam rising
(just so) from the edge of the centrifuge of the just-stirred coffee. YOU GOTTA CLOSE YOUR EYES BEFORE YOU CAN EVEN SEE IT. Well, as the consummate pro, I of course only have 2 questions for you, Mr Client. They are;
1. What is the budget?
2. When is the deadline?
Everything will flow from that. In producing the image there is no such thing as the right or the best way. Every conceptual photographer would approach the brief from a unique and particular perspective, with different strengths and different limitations. The conceptual photographer has to be a great deal more than a lighting technician or a cameraman. He needs all that, but in addition, he must be something of a set-builder, a stylist, a model-builder, a
project manager, a resource administrator and a great deal else. He must have communication skills, not just through the camera, but also on both sides of it.
Above all the conceptual photographer must be a realist, for it is in the real world that the imagination must be turned into a visual reality - perhaps in existence for just the nanosecond that it takes to record the image of it. You may spend 3 days or more setting up and then take the pic in a 250th sec., or
whatever. The image and it’s set get dismantled and it is as if it had never existed... except in the picture itself; . It places the Art of the photographic within an entirely different realm.
I could ferret on for another couple of thousand words, but the chances are if you don’t get it yet, you probably never will... and I should probably not be wasting your precious time or my recious breath. Cappiche?
I forgot to say; we get so wrapped up in the imagery itself, that sometimes we forget that fundamentally, the client is not so much buying a picture, as the photographer themselves... and not so much the photographer, as the photographers BELIEF in THEMSELVES and their supreme ability to deliver WHAT THE CLIENT WANTS (or thinks they want).