Whilst stuck in traffic the other morning listening to a podcast about artistic influences a curious thought struck me: what are my conscious and unconscious photographic influences, and how do they affect the way my images look? I think this is a topic worth exploring because it’s useful to analyse how you think as a photographer, because it will consciously help you to identify potential shots sooner, as well as tap into other sources of influence you might not have previously considered.
Finding influences and connections between artists is an important task for creativity. By doing so, the conversation about art continues and new intimations, styles, and creations can thrive. An artist might be inspired by one painting, a body of work, or even an entire style of art, and use it to create something entirely their own. It is fair to say that every artist, at least in the last several millennia, beyond finding joy in creating their own work, also found inspiration in the art of others. In fact, for many that inspiration is what made them decide to become artists themselves. We are all influenced constantly by the world around us, whether we’re aware of it or not, and how that changes us, our lives and work, and our art is profoundly inspiring.
Personally, I have found following in the footsteps of my influences to be a worthy pursuit. I have often challenged myself to create a similar image to those I have admired. Not to try and pass something off as my own original idea, but to gain an understanding in how an image was created and in doing so maybe understand why it works. I see nothing wrong in this as it’s a great way to learn more, but hopefully at some point we can begin to forge our own path. Even if you are visiting the same place as your hero, sooner or later you’ll begin to find your own voice and style of expression. When we do follow in these footsteps, a few things happen. We learn why certain locations worked for them, but we also learn a lot about ourselves in the process. I’d like to share a few thoughts about some of the people who’ve been major impacts on my own art, and I hope that they might inspire other people too.
This is the guy that made me think, ‘wow, you can really do that with a camera?!’ On walking into his gallery in Mandurah I was completely blown away by what this guy could do. He prints big (really big), and so serious attention to detail is required. Large prints are not forgiving to even the smallest of mistakes, yet you’ll find the quality of his work is amazing. He’s also a genuinely nice guy too. He’s always responded to any questions I have ever asked him with warmth and sincerity, and has been a big help in my work. I went to Iceland with him a few years ago and one of things I picked up was, point your camera in almost the opposite direction to everyone else, as this is where the new original idea will come from. His talent in almost making the benign interesting is inspiring. With an amazing source of post processing tips and tricks, he is someone I would highly recommend checking out.
Michael Kenna is a black and white photographer with a worldwide reputation. Discovering his work has been a revelation to me, as his images convey all that I believe I have been trying to achieve, and continue to do so: the power of silence, serenity, and minimalism, as well as a sense of the fleeting and melancholic nature of time. Having studied quite a few videos from this master, the first thing that struck me was the passion and curiosity in his search for divinity. Maybe it’s a quest to capture the unseen, or an attempt to explore bigger things at work in the world? Regardless, I was fascinated and hooked. I keep admiring the beautiful-innocent light, subtle and simple elements, and his utterly brilliant placement of them inside a frame. He strongly believes that fortune favours those who work hard and commit to their craft, and I’ve taken that lesson in particular to heart.
Strangely enough, I actually found Michael Kenna through the work of Bruce, (which makes sense because he has been described on occasion as the colour version of Michael Kenna). He runs fantastic, fun and well-organised workshops that clearly explain what you will gain from them without embellishment. He is the biggest influence on my images at the moment and has shown me a direction I am happy to be heading towards right now. If I were to have a mentor then this would be the guy for me. He focuses on the ‘why’ of an image and the relationships each of the elements in a photograph have with each other. He values editing as equally important as how you work in the field. Yes, you should get it right in camera, but also you need to get it right in editing too. He chooses not to use the word post processing as he believes this implies it’s an afterthought, but instead should be considered at the time of capture too. He is one person I will continue to invest my time and money in for advice and help as I progress in my artistic career.
I am starting to look more into the art world for inspiration, and one of the most inspiring so far has been Rothko. I find talking about art a lot like talking about wine. It’s very pompous and strange; speech that sounds like it’s from another world. All I know is what I like and maybe not so much as to the reasons why. This modernist abstract painter isn’t somebody I’ve consciously followed, (I’ve seen his paintings here and there), but it’s the simple geometry, balance of colours and choice of pallets that makes his compositions, (yes very simple) but also compelling. Lately, I’ve been noticing that I find myself attracted to places and compositions that follow this same principle. As I said before it's not conscious, but I’ve been working in a 2-dimensional configuration, using layers of monochromatic colour in horizontal bands in very flat or soft light. This seems to remove the 3-dimensional depth to an image. It’s not a technique that works all the time because it’s heavily subject-driven, but when it does work I love the simplicity and clarity of the imagery.
These are my influences to date but I am sure they will also change over time. I enjoy searching for and looking at the work of others. At the end of the day though, it doesn’t matter to me if inspiration comes from a song or a sunset. It doesn’t matter if inspiration comes from a different discipline or an artist in the same medium and genre. I believe you should acknowledge your roots and sources of inspirations as I think it shows integrity, which matters more than clever and pretentious art-speak. It’s about making sure I’m being true to myself in my creative endeavours rather than chasing someone else’s aesthetic (and I have been faced with this temptation many times).
I will continue to be as transparent as possible. I welcome any criticism that my work may earn for bearing too close a resemblance to the sources of my inspiration. I hope that, while there may be common threads, my work will continue to evolve over the years and not become formulaic or reliant on the work of others. After all, paying homage to what’s come before while speaking for yourself is what creation is all about.