Over the last few weeks, I’ve come across lots of different people talking about originality in photography. Its come up in articles, recordings and general discussion. Some has been photography in general and other comments fine art in particular. As a result, I’ve been pondering about originality in my work and that of others I know and follow.
I think we can all agree originality is hard; after all, as the saying goes there are only 7 stories in the world. My Instagram feed is full of lots of great images but how original are they? Some leap out as feeling very close in term of style and content to well-known photographers’ work. Others are definitely of an established type and this is particularly true of lots of commercial photoshoots. The maternity shoot with wafting fabric or Christmas photo of the kids in front of the window pointing to Santa is far from an original concept. It doesn’t have to be though as these images are about beautiful memories for those involved. However, fine art is about a personal vision.
There is a strong tradition in visual art of copying for learning. Indeed, Michelangelo’s first solo work was said to be a reworking of another image. I can see that copying another photograph can be purely an academic exercise to learn a skill. The issue for me is when that work gets shared rather than remaining a private learning exercise though. Even worse when it is shared, there is no acknowledgement of the original and credit is falsely taken. Why not shoot a concept of your own inspired by the style, learn from that and acknowledge its source instead?
Sadly, we still see people copying images with minor tweaks or worse even stealing the original images and claiming them as their own work in the photographic world. What I don’t understand is why someone would do this or persistently and intentionally seek to replicate the styles of others. Whilst originality is challenging, surely it’s still the correct goal?
Of course, there is cryptomnesia. The Oxford dictionary defines it as “The phenomenon of perceiving a latent or subconscious memory as an original thought or idea; latent or subconscious recollection.” It is essentially copying without realising that is what you are doing. I’m sure we are all guilty of this to some degree at times. I do recall having a really great idea for an image only to realise later that I was remembering a photograph I’ve seen. There is an interesting video about it here.
I guess this is where having one’s own distinctive style can make a real difference. Fine art photography is about your vision not someone else’s. There are so many sources of inspiration to draw from. If you come up with a concept, pull together the component parts, set up, shoot and process your own images then they should have your own unique look and feel. So even if you fall short of ‘originality’ your work will be distinctly yours and bring something new.
I’ve been pondering a casual comment made to me this week about other fine art photographers being the competition. On one level I guess we do compete with each other and the wider art community for space in galleries and exhibitions, funding and development opportunities. I’m not sure we do so for sales in the same way though.
One of my favourite quotes about art is“The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke”, Jerzy Kosiński
I believe that in most cases people buy fine art because they feel a real connection to it, it is emotional. That’s not to say they can’t appreciate the craftsmanship that’s gone into a piece but this is about something far stronger. So are we artists competing for the same sale? Only theoretically I feel because for the buyer it is not a choice between picture A or picture B. Picture B is likely to have never been in contention and it is between A or nothing. Well, that’s my take on it anyway!
So why is this relevant? Well, I recently set up a fine art photographers’ group for people from the UK and Ireland on Facebook. It is going from strength to strength. We’re sharing lots of resources, opportunities and advice there. So if you are a photographer interested in or practising fine art please do come and join us, it’s a friendly bunch!
Part of my thinking in setting up the group was about paying it forward. I’ve benefited a lot from advice and support from others. In turn, I wanted to share the things I’ve found out on my journey so far in turn. Another reason was wanting to be around people doing similar things to me, experiencing the same challenges and successes. I want to learn from and be supported by others too. I couldn’t find anywhere to do this so I created the space for it. And no, I don’t think of the other members as my competition. Instead, I hope that together we can create a bigger space and higher profile for fine art photography in the UK and Ireland.
In other news for me, it has been a week of feeling loved. My work went into Batley Art Gallery for an exhibition starting tomorrow and I was notified that I’ve had work accepted into Mytholmroyd Art Festival in October. If you are in Yorkshire please do check out the exhibitions.
I had a fabulous shoot last weekend and this is one of the shots from it. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more soon. I’ve also had lovely comments this week from two other photographers who are close friends about feeling supported by me. We don’t see each other as competition either but rather an integral part of each other’s support networks. It is a great place to be when you have people around supporting you and cheering you on. It is great to be able to the same for them too. Thanks as well to everyone who got in touch after my last blog to talk about photography and art, I love to hear your thoughts on my musings!
A few days ago I did a ‘meet the artist’ session at a gallery. The last time I did one was for work that was displayed as part of a photography exhibition. This one was a part of an art exhibition featuring a wide range of works – 2d, 3d and digital. Mine were the only photographs being shown and it got me thinking about the different responses to photography as art.
Intention, I have an idea that I want to create. Sometimes it’s a fully worked up picture to the very last detail of story, costume, pose and location. Sometimes it is an emotion or idea. Not to say it can’t evolve though as I talked about here.
It is clear that some segments of the art world regard photography as a poor relation. Certainly, some art exhibitions don’t want photographs and even in those that say they do they are often poorly represented in the final selection. I can see two possible reasons why people may feel this way. The first is about uniqueness. We tend to think of something as unique as being more valuable. So a photograph which can be printed many times may be perceived as less valuable. That is why so many of us photographers sell our work as limited edition prints rather than open editions. However, its worth keeping in mind that many artists also produce prints of their work rather than just originals.
The second reason is that it can be considered by some not be ‘proper art’. Yes, photos can be a record shot (a favourite phrase of camera club judges) capturing what is there for posterity with no intention. I’m not arguing the case for all photos being art. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that whole genres like street photography and landscapes fall into this though. These photographers can plan out and wait for ages for the shot they envision. That might be the right person to walk through the scene or for the weather to create the perfect image with the landscape.
In selecting the costume, props, location and emotion for a photograph I am doing the same as an artist who plans to draw or paint the scene. I build up colour and texture in the same way as many artists just in photoshop rather than using a paintbrush. As well as spending time taking an image, I often spend many, many hours working on it afterwards. Sometimes the final image can be very different from the original, sometimes it is just about refinement and colour toning.
I blogged a few months ago about whether I am a photographer or an artist. It seems to be a topic that I revisit in different guises. Oh, and the artist’s talk went well to a lovely bunch of people. It was very clear most of them thought photography was art and that’s great to hear particularly from a group that had quite a number of fellow artists working in traditional media.
Often my strongest work comes from what evolves from my original mental picture for a fine art photograph. Lots of things can influence changes. Frequently the concept is refined naturally as we try out poses and work with props. Sometimes it is in response to outside factors though such as as the British weather.
Weather is rightly somewhat of a preoccupation here in the UK. I’ve heard many jokes about the British weather obsession and they are mostly true! Our weather is incredibly changeable – I think we’ve seen three different season’s worth in the last week or so alone… A slight aside but it really is also a perennial topic of conversation. I even recommended it to some friends visiting from America as a go-to in any situation where they were dealing with English reserve!
As a location photographer dodging the rain is often a required skill. Another is balancing dull days on which skies still want to blow out losing the detail. On this particular day, the weather was a big factor. I made the mistake of saying how nice it was at the start of the shoot. I’d taken just half a dozen frames when the heavens opened!
When we arrived at the location for this set I was amazed at how windy it was in that particular spot. It must have been a geographic quirk as it hadn’t been at our earlier location. The bonnet – made from an old beach hat the evening before – was actually depending on the ties to keep it in place. But the wind meant the long ribbons streamed in the wind nicely, almost as if I’d planned it!
So we embraced the wind and started playing around getting the shawl to stream out. I’d got it in mind to use an image of it held. But I decided it worked better as a stand-alone element because it fitted so well with this pose.
Motion is great in pictures, it really makes them come alive. But capturing that feeling can sometimes be challenging. I’d originally intended to try and give the sense of walking through the fields. However, I prefer the final image with all the wind and extra motion.
All fine art photographs are about having a vision. However, it is important to explore opportunities to refine and improve your mental picture. And just for the record, it was really only a small gale and 20-minute rainstorm otherwise known as a great British summer day…!
‘A Windy Walk’ is available as a limited edition archival print starting at £135, please get in touch to purchase this and other prints.
I have had so much going on recently that I will update on soon. But today is all about telling stories and those of fire and ice in particular. I’ve been very inspired by Game of Thrones but I doubt that is much of a surprise. I love epic costumes, fabulous embroidery, crowns and pretty much everything about fantasy. Therefore, a love affair was inevitable! So I’ve been rather sad that its the final episode – no spoilers don’t worry.
After eight seasons I feel like I’m saying goodbye to old friends as the characters head off to their future without me. When I finish an image and send it out into the world I sometimes have the same sense of mingled loss and excitement.
When I create an image I envisage a character and a story, even if I never share them with anyone. I get to spend a lot of time with my characters whilst shooting and then editing images. Then I send them off into the world when I share the final picture with others. Once out there they have a life of their own because of course, we have no control over how others perceive our work. I find that both exciting and scary!
I love that people find their own stories in my images and it is great to hear about these. I’m often surprised by the similarities and differences in what people take from them and the emotions they evoke.
Telling stories in a single frame can be challenging but it is very rewarding. I think about how every aspect of an image can work together to create one cohesive piece. Styling, location, model, expression, colours, textures and so much more have to come together.
There is often a lot of planning involved and I’ll talk more about what goes into a shoot another time. However, there is also a lot of me in my images. Hopes, dreams and fears all go into the process of creating and sharing my work. So today I have real sympathy for the writers of GOT who despite all their talent for telling stories were never going to be able to please all of us.
RIP GOT, I’ve loved having your around. I plan to enjoy the reruns for a long time to come (and the rest of the books when they finally arrive!). I’m sure I will be continuing to pay a personal tribute to the wonderful visuals through my work over the coming months. Now if anyone knows where I can find a dragon I’ve got a great dress and crown that would be just perfect for the shot…
Well, I have to admit to being sad to say goodbye to February, a month in which I definitely felt the love!
Talking of love, I wanted to share this new image ‘Looking for Love’. This is from one of a number of great shoots I had in February. I will be sharing more from those with you soon.
I hope those of you who follow me on Instagram have been enjoying my occasional light-hearted series on Instagram stories. A key topic for February was what stylish princesses are wearing under their ballgowns this season. For those that didn’t see it, jogging bottoms and trainers were definitely trending!
I was delighted that Wishing was, accepted into the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) Photo Prize 2019 exhibition. It runs until 9th March 2019 so there is still time to visit and there is some really interesting work on display.
It was great to get to have the chance to kick off the exhibition tour a few weeks ago talking about my work. As well as talking specifically about Wishing I also touched on how I create images and fine art photography in general.
As with a lot of my work Wishing is heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and intentionally edited to have a more painterly feel. The photograph was taken last year whilst the trees were still very green. My Autumn look comes primarily from the post-processing. I love that it has a feel of an earlier time but it shows an emotion that is universal and timeless.
What is she wishing for? That I leave to your imagination…
I really enjoyed hearing the other artists who were chosen to take part in the Photo Prize tour talking about their work. It is great to hear what inspires others to create and I think we all approached the talk from slightly different perspectives.
I want to say a big thank you to the RBSA and Argentea Gallery and all their team for staging a great exhibition and tour. A particular thanks to the lovely gentleman who was organising the pictures when they were delivered. He made my day when he referred to my work as the “lovely Pre-Raphaelite pictures”. I love it when others also see what influences my work.
Thanks also to the Birmingham Photography Festival for the mention in their newsletter along with fellow Photo Prize exhibitor and fellow speaker at last year’s festival Kris Askey. In keeping with the theme of love, do go and share some by checking out his work. He takes some great portraits and street shots.
Thanks also to Igers Worcestershire for making Wishing their picture of the day earlier this week.
A great month throughout, February has concluded with more good news. I’m really pleased that one of my images will soon be exhibited at the PhotoPlace Gallery in Vermont, USA. ‘Racing the Sunset’ has been selected for the upcoming Altered Realities exhibition curated by Brooke Shaden. Brooke has been a big inspiration so I was particularly delighted to be selected for this exhibition.
Well, that was February, March you have a lot to live up to! I hope you had lots of love in February too.
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Limited edition archival prints are available of the images above and many of my other images.
Last week I got to see Mathew Bourne’s amazing contemporary ballet Swan Lake for the second time. I love watching the ballet both classical and contemporary and this one is particularly powerful. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. Seeing work like this always inspires me and it got me thinking about all the places I find inspiration for my fine art photography.
My inspiration comes from a range of sources, but literature plays a big role. The Ladybird book of Cinderella with its pictures of beautiful flowing dresses, sparkling carriages and prancing horses was where I remember my love of fantasy starting. Then onto Grimms’ fairytales and many others gathering so many ideas from classic stories along the way.
Children get some of the best fantasy literature and books like the Chronicles of Narnia remain much loved although my copies are rather dog eared now. Over the years I discovered new loves and sources of inspiration including other fantasy novels such as the Mists of Avalon, Dune and Wheel of Time. I also love the seemingly unending supply of great inspiring legends like The Mabinogion and other Arthurian tales. Epic tales of gods, goddesses and heroes from Greek and Roman myth and the Celtic and Norse pantheons abound. These of course include those about Ceridwen.
Visually I enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies with their amazing costumes and sets. Recently I have revisited my childhood delving into the the wonderful live action Disney fairy tale movies. On the small screen Game of Thrones brings a wealth of medieval based inspiration. Of course GOT also has those amazing big set pieces and the dragons; if only I had the budget!
I’ve always had a love of history particularly the Tudor and Medieval periods and there are some wonderful stories to draw on from those times. The style of clothing of these periods are a particular favourite of mine but I’ll talk more about costume specifically another time. With them as historical inspiration it’s probably not surprising that I love much of the work of the pre-Raphaelite artists. The recent exhibition of Edward Burne-Jones work at the Tate was fabulous, so much so I went round twice! I discovered some amazing colours and textures within the works that hadn’t been evident when looking at pictures. My visit will be a big source of inspiration for some time I’m sure.
I am an admirer of gothic revival architecture and in particular the work of Augustus Pugin. I enjoy both his overall style and his use of colour and decoration for the interiors though mostly sadly so little of the interior painted decoration remains today. I also enjoy the wonderful flow, colours and fantasy appearance of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture.
Other photographers are a great source of inspiration but that probably merits a blog in itself but for now, suffice to say I enjoy my instagram feed! However, there was a bonus on my Swan Lake trip. I got to see some more of the wonderful pictures Bella Kotak has taken to promote Birmingham Hippodrome’s upcoming Beauty and the Beast.
Inspiration can be found in so many places around us, not just the obvious. My list of photo ideas has been inspired by very varied things – a reflection in a window, an old film and a song included. Sometimes I’ve been seeking out inspiration, sometimes admiring others’ work but often it just pops up in the most random of places. One of the great things about smart phones is that you can always take a quick picture when you see something and even play around with a quick edit too.
I’ve been delighted that I’ve been able to inspire others with my work. It is lovely when someone gets in touch to comment on this or ask to base a work on an image. I wanted to share a work from Mike the Oil Artist along with my image ‘Searching for fairies’ at the top of this page that was the inspiration for it. I think it is really interesting to see the two takes on the same topic together. It is wonderful we all look at things in such different ways. It is great to connect with other creatives and be inspired in turn as well.
I’ve been a bit quiet recently but I’ve been using the time to reflect on my work and taking part in few weeks of ‘creativity practice’. I’m not sure what I expected from it beyond getting another perspective. However it has meant asking lots of questions of myself about the work I create and why I do it. Now I’m approaching the end I thought it was time to share some of my thoughts here with a blog or two.
Historically I would not have described myself as creative, after all I failed art at school and don’t even recall being that keen on doing it! However, since taking up photography I’ve discovered a hitherto unknown creative side to myself.
My images feeling like they have a story behind them is important to me as is making the observer experience an emotion. For me the story I have in my head is often one that comes from a fairy tale or other fantasy work. However, everyone’s will be different even though we are viewing the same image. I’m always fascinated to hear the stories that people take from my work and the feelings it evokes.
Stories are definitely what drew me into this type of photography. Largely self-taught I have experimented with a few different genres but photographing people was the first one that really gelled for me. Photography is very much just part of the process though. Increasingly post processing is where the images really evolve and I talked before about whether I consider myself a photographer or an artist. Sometimes my images seem to have a mind of their own; they become something completely different to what I had in mind when they were taken, but more of that another time. Sometimes I just can’t create what I’m aiming for but that happens less and less. Practise may never deliver perfection but its helped a lot!
I’ve mulled this over a lot over the last few weeks and concluded that there is no one answer but instead a lot. Here are a few of them; I create because:
I’ve chosen the image to share with this blog as for me it is one about vulnerability. It seemed appropriate because when we create something we invest ourselves in it. When we share what we have invested in we make ourselves vulnerable.
I’ll be sharing more from my creativity practice over the coming weeks. I’d love to hear your thoughts about my work or your own creativity as you #createyourstory. Please get in touch using the comments below or connect with me on Instagram or facebook if you prefer. Sign up for my mailing list if you’d like to hear from me occasionally about things like new blogs and images.
Inspired by various recent posts and the ponderings of friends I’ve recently reflected on how to refer to ‘what I am’. Am I a photographer or an artist? Do I take photos or create images? When I started taking photographs it was all about recording what was there. That could be either by capturing a great view or creating a staged image intentionally for the purposes of photographing it. I’d definitely have used the term photographer. Whilst I still do both of these they are no longer the focus for me. I’m much less concerned with depicting reality and much more with the final image.
Photoshop skills help and for many of us these are hard earned. I can’t tell you the number of times I have and still do wrestle with making something I’m trying to composite appear believable. I don’t always win either sadly. However, the number of times I succeed is getting higher, probably often because I learned so many new skills in the failed attempts.
Its not just photoshop skills though. My approach has also changed as well as in the past I would never have considered myself to be an artist or even a creative person. I can’t draw or paint, heck I failed art! However, over time and inspired by many other peoples’ work I’ve branched out and become more experimental. Perhaps I just wasn’t brave enough until now, after all ‘creativity takes courage’ as Matisse said.
My attitude to colour is changing too. Not only do I not feel constrained to stick with the colours that were there I no longer stick even to what was possible. The sole determiner now is what looks good to me when I’m editing. Moving away from reality and being much more experimental with colour grading has been really interesting. There are lots of great actions and tools out there that can make it really fun and easy to play with colour. Some of my personal favourites are fine art actions and the infinite colour panel.
Whilst I still am a photographer I now think of photographs more as raw materials for a production process or the ingredients that go into a meal. Photoshop is where I process or blend these together, developing them to make the finished product. I’m not averse to adding in plenty of herbs and spices to really add some zing to the flavour and appearance either.
So if I had to pick a label today? Well then I think I am an artist because I’m increasingly an image creator rather than an image recorder, after all why let reality unnecessarily get in the way? However, perhaps its more appropriate that the viewer should judge my images and decide for themselves.