And let me know what you thought!
“To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life. ” Henri Cartier-Bresson
I hope you are all doing well and you are doing some great things with your day.
Today I am continuing my occasional series about photographers that I love.
- 10 Lessons On Photography & Art From Richard Avedon And James Baldwin
- Lessons from legendary photographer Ara Güler ‘The Eye of Istanbul’
- Interviews and inspiration from my favourite photographers
I love looking in detail at another photographer’s work, because to immerse yourself in the space of someone else’s creativity and seeing what their ideas spark in you, what excites you, what makes you sit up and think – wow, that’s really cool – that’s all great fuel for your own photography.
My subject today is Henri Cartier-Bresson. Born in 1908 he was initially drawn to painting before discovering photography at the age of 24 (and the Leica camera!). After a spectacular career he started to move away from photography at the age of 60 and spent the rest of his long life focused more on drawing and painting.
Although I can’t ever imagine giving up on photography I really admire it when people take big leaps in their creativity like this. I mean he was a world famous photographer, he could have coasted on that for the next thirty years, but instead he was drawn back to his first love.
I aim to be that fearless with my decisions in life. To just go for what moves me, and not what makes most practical sense.
What I love about Cartier-Bresson’s photography is his steadied and almost scientific approach to composition – he had a great feel for shape and form and putting that together into compelling compositions.
In this article I am using my own photos that I think draw from is style and influence.
He is very much known for his street photography which, as a genre, I often find comes across in a cold, slightly sterile feeling. But I think Cartier-Bresson’s photographs, and his street photography, have a real warmth combined with a concern for humanity.
So here are some things Henri Cartier-Bresson can teach you about photography.
You know what all good photographers have? Patience. You know what almost every person who comes on my workshops needs more of? Patience.
You have to accept that if you want to be a great photographer (or even almost-great. Or anywhere above average) you need the ability to not rush the moment.
You need to enter into the moment that you are in, be totally present and to let it just run as it sees fit. To observe the world around you with no expectation, to drift through the place you are in, and to completely resist the temptation to keep moving on.
“One minute of patience, ten years of peace.” Greek proverb
If there is one thing I would like you to take away from this post that will make your photography instantly better, it is to take twice the amount of time looking than you usually do.
To fight your mind and your body in the urge to keep moving on.
When you find a scene that interests you, stay put.
Explore it, probe it, wait for things to happen. And in general, walk twice as slowly, stay out taking photos for twice as long.
But as Joyce Meyer says – “Patience is not just about waiting for something… it’s about how you wait, or your attitude while waiting.”
Be patient in your patience 🙂
2) Find the perfect expression of your subject
Cartier-Bresson is most famous for coming up with the term the decisive moment. The term actually came from the English title of his book. The book opens with the quote from Cardinal de Retz, who wrote in the 17th century:
“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.”
There are all kinds of interpretations of the decisive moment, I like this one from a great article about The Decisive Moment and the Brain:
“The decisive moment refers to capturing an event that is ephemeral and spontaneous, where the image represents the essence of the event itself.”
When they talk about the decisive moment it could come across as being that you wait for that perfect moment, then you take a photo, then you move on.
But actually Cartier-Bresson worked the scene like most of the rest of us, taking lots of photos. And from this he would pick a photo that most accurately captured the essence of the situation – that gave the viewer the most information and feeling about the subject.
3) Use your intuition
“Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.” Cartier-Bresson
This to me again speaks of shutting off your chatty, worky, to-do mind and trying to just enter into the moment. There is a lot that we intuit that we probably don’t acknowledge, so occupied are we at listening to our endless thoughts.
I feel like it’s like you need to get out of your mind and into your body – and see what it is noticing about where you are at, ignoring that busy mind of yours.
“Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It’s drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it, or you won’t get it. First you must lose yourself. Then it happens.” Cartier-Bresson
I like that, you must lose yourself. It’s exactly what I feel when I am in the ‘zone’ or the ‘creative flow state’. I am losing track of space and time, and just completely immersed in my subject. It doesn’t happen every time I shoot, but I know that when it happens I am getting something very special.
4) The beauty of shape and form
Cartier-Bresson was very into lines, shapes, organising and balancing the geometry of the world.
“In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry– it is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself.” Cartier-Bresson
5) Take the time to reveal your subject
“The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” Cartier-Bresson
This for me perfectly captures what you need to be doing when taking someone’s photo. And this isn’t easy! Taking a portrait for me is about your subject revealing something about themselves or their experience.
It could be through their movement, the expression within their eyes or face – but it has to tell you something about the person or the situation they are in.
Almost everyone (with the exception of young children) have a veneer that they present to the world, and this veneer will harden when you put a camera up in front of them.
People are programmed to want to project a certain image – but that image is boring to photograph most of the time.
So what this comes down to again is time. Spending time with your subject or watching your subject so that they start to relax and reveal something about themselves.
You want them to go from feeling consciously looked at, to feeling unconsciously looked at. Because that veneer is hard to maintain, and people will forget about a camera after a while.
So, in order to get to that point where people are losing their guard and starting to reveal something interesting about themselves you need to push through the discomfort you are likely to experience whilst waiting.
It’s weirdly self conscious pointing a camera at someone you aren’t acquainted with for long periods of time. So again, be patient with yourself and move through the discomfort.
It could be that you are just clicking away, having the subject get used to you. Gradually they will.
Or talk to them – or watch them if you are shooting them unawares. Wait for those fluttering changes in their face, their eyes. See what they do with their hands, where their eyes turn when their preoccupations come back to occupy their minds.
But then sometimes it’s more interesting to see not what I think of people, or my view – but what they think of themselves and of the world.
6) Don’t be nostalgic about your photos
“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.” Cartier-Bresson
I think a lot of us photographers worry that we aren’t ever going to take a truly original photo. When I visit to new cities I certainly worry about that. I mean there are photographers everywhere! (This writer worked out that “Every two minutes, humans take more photos than ever existed in total 150 years ago.”)
I think there is a little bit of nostalgia in wanting to take photos. Life is such a flowing, never stopping act, that to take a photo and halt that process of always changing, always moving on, is to gain a small window of time to stop and reflect. To have an opportunity to stop and breathe.
Photography is a weird dichotomy of being completely present and living in a very rich connected way, and this constant reflecting back on the past. On past moments that you have captured.
But Cartier-Bresson was someone who constantly pushed forward and gave very little thought to his earlier photos.
“The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box.”
I hope you are inspired to explore his work more. A good place to start is the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, set up with his wife Martine Franck (a great photographer in her own right), and his daughter. And as he was one of the co-founders of Magnum.
And, as always, we love hearing what you think, so if you’ve got some thoughts on Cartier-Bresson please comment below. And please share with anyone who you think would enjoy this post, it means a lot, thanks!
Anthony and Diana
© Tanya Murchie
There are thousands of people who receive this newsletter – and more who connect with us in other ways through our facebook group, workshops and online courses.
People from all over the world, of all different ages, backgrounds, lifestyles, jobs – it’s very cool to see the diversity and creativity of people spanning the world.
It always feels like such a gift to get to know people in our community better and hear about their interests and passions in photography.
© Chuck Rubin
So we thought what would be ultra cool is if we started sharing some of the stories and photos from people we meet.
Today we are offering the first in an occasional series of interviews and conversations with two such people, Chuck Rubin and Tanya Murchie, who live in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
They have both lived in the city for many years, and are both originally from Canada.
© Tanya Murchie
Mexico is a country that I have loved since my first trip there a few decades ago. I love the diverse landscapes and culture – and of course the food. It’s my favourite food on earth.
So I was eager to hear more about their experiences of shooting Mexico, and of how they came to love photography.
So, Tanya and Chuck, how long have you been taking photos?
Tanya: I remember picking up a camera that my parents had, perhaps an old Brownie or similar. I must have been 8 or 9 years old; I was allowed to buy one roll of film and had NO idea what I was doing. However, I was fascinated that this thing could capture moments in time.
Last year my younger sister passed away and I found a box of her photos. There was a photo of her and I in a baby crib, she must have been 2 and me 3. She was holding a doll and I was holding a camera! The seed was planted.
Some years I have not dabbled in photography at all but I have always LOVED it. These past 8 years it’s been pretty constant and I try to shoot at least 4 – 5x a week. I carry my camera with me most of the time.
Chuck: …when I was about 11 years old. A friend and I shared a darkroom and we used to develop our own films and print them.
© Chuck Rubin
What drew you to photography?
Tanya: The idea of capturing a moment, ideally with people. I am a loner and photography just allows me to do my own thing.
Chuck: Jeez, I can’t remember what I had for breakfast and you’re asking me to remember my state of mind 50 years ago? Does an 11 year old even have a state of mind? I think at the time I liked the technical aspects of photography.
I was intrigued by all the things you had to master in order to make a photograph work. Anyone who has printed their own photographs never forgets the first time they see the image become visible in the developing tank. It’s quite a thrill!
© Tanya Murchie
What do you like to photograph?
Tanya: People, people, abstract, reflections and more people. I am a street-urban photographer, whatever that may entail? So for me ‘street-portraits’ are what make me happy.
Sometimes I will speak with the people I photograph and other times not. I used to be extremely shy and now I have no problem asking someone for their portrait. I am sure being an older female helps, I certainly get away with a lot!
Chuck: To be quite honest what I like to photograph has really changed since I took Anthony’s course. I see life all around me, more vividly because now I’m always looking as a photographer.
And I want to photograph what I see in a way that communicates what I see, so that those looking at my photographs see what I saw when I took the photo. No small feat that! I fully expect I’ll be trying to master this for the rest of my time as a photographer.
© Chuck Rubin
What does photography bring to your life?
Tanya: PURE joy, creativity, growth, trying new ideas, being in the moment and even frustration. When Chuck and I began our photo group, we had no idea if anyone would be interested. We have a small, committed, creative core group that is so inspirational.
Chuck: Taking pictures brings an artistic expression to my life that I’ve never really had before. I’ve lead a very creative life; I was a radio producer then a director of television & theatre, and I always worked with teams of creative people, leading them towards a final end goal.
Now I work alone. I have a creative vision that I alone understand and that I alone am responsible for achieving. I really enjoy that.
© Tanya Murchie
What subjects/places/or times inspire you the most?
Tanya: Inspiration can be tough sometimes and I find I need to GET OUT and walk-walk-walk. Meditation also helps a lot, to be in the moment, aware of what’s around me.
Subjects: this would be people, vintage cars, and I am beginning to experiment with macro. Steel-wool photography is something I am going to work on this next month, really cool stuff with that. Anywhere, I just need to get out by myself and walk – however Mexico and Italy are beautiful.
I would LOVE to visit Istanbul, Morocco and Prague. This November I am going to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. If I can’t be inspired there then all is lost!
Times: when my head is clear especially after meditation; I like early morning and evening, you know when the light is so beautiful.
Chuck: What inspires me has also changed since I “met” Anthony. Now, it’s light that inspires me. I see light differently than I used to. I see it as an entity in and of itself, not just the things it illuminates.
Whereas in the past, I would try and shoot at golden hour in the afternoon, now I see the light at any point in the day as something unique and I try to capture it. This is a difficult concept to articulate, and frankly, a difficult concept to render in images, but that’s what I’m trying to do.
© Tanya Murchie
What do you like about photography in San Miguel?
Tanya: San Miguel is full of colour-culture-music-art-food and creative people. I am surrounded by interesting things each and every day. The Mexican culture is so full of life and love!
I really enjoy that people are not in a hurry, they take time to enjoy life.
Chuck: San Miguel is a very unique place, especially when it comes to light. It’s why so many artists come here to live and work. The light here has unique properties that combine with the colours.
© Chuck Rubin
What drew you to the city to live?
Tanya: My husband and I had been living/working in 2 previous cities, including Mexico City. We would visit San Miguel and joke about how cool it would be to live here. Well, one day, I found an agent and then we bought a house, the rest is history. San Miguel is magical – ask anyone who lives here and anything is possible here!
Chuck: I first came to San Miguel on vacation, more than a decade ago. We bought a house after only a week. When this place speaks to you, it speaks loudly. Mexicans are the most wonderful, emotionally honest, giving people you could ever hope to meet.
© Tanya Murchie
What is the most exciting thing about shooting in Mexico?
Tanya: The amazing light – golden warm, rich light. Colours – San Miguel is so full of vibrant colours especially the bougainvillea. The people, and Mexican culture is fascinating and I get to be part of this.
Chuck: Combine that with the colonial architecture here in San Miguel, the reverence for history, the importance of this city in the history of Mexico and the War of Independence from Spain, and that only scratches the surface of what makes this place so special.
How often do you shoot?
Tanya: I usually carry my camera with me wherever I go. My husband probably doesn’t like it but after 32 years he is used to it, thank goodness! I would feel that something is missing if I didn’t have a camera.
I have my Fuji XT3 / XT1 and a small X70 with mostly prime lenses and 2 zooms. I shoot with Fuji because they are pretty inconspicuous cameras and they look “old-school”, and people always ask if I am shooting film.
Chuck: I try to go out everyday to shoot images. Tanya and I are best photo buds; we even sign our emails to each other Y.B. for Your Bud. We send each other a photo a day. And because we both have such respect for the others’ talents and forms of expression, these daily submissions are a challenge, one to the other, to be creative, be expressive, and get out there and make images.
© Chuck Rubin
Who is your favourite photographer?
Tanya: I don’t have any favourites per se but Robert Frank and Diane Arbus are truly an inspiration for me. I really like Bruce Gilden’s photos but I do not appreciate his abrupt work style.
I also love: Nick Turpin,Trent Parke, Alexey Titarenko and Jeff Mermelstein. I follow other photographers on Instagram – there is a lot of really cool work out there – Sean Tucker, Romina Hierro, Bruce Critchley.
Chuck: My favourite photographers are André Kertész, Gordon Parks, Henri Cartier Bresson and Ernst Haas.
Chuck’s photo, inspired by Kertész:
© Chuck Rubin
Thank you Tanya and Chuck for sharing your photos and thoughts about photography. That was brilliant.
We both particularly loved the idea about taking a photo a day and sharing it with your photo buddy. Totally recommend that tip!
If you’d like to share your feedback and thoughts on Tanya and Chuck’s interview and photos, please comment below. It’ll be wonderful for them to hear from you.
© Tanya Murchie
And if you’d like to join me, Chuck and Tanya in San Miguel de Allende this coming February – I will be teaching a fantastic new workshop here from February 15th – 22nd.
I am very excited to be working with a wonderful group of passionate photographers – as we soak up the beauty, culture and light of San Miguel, and I help you take your photography to the next level.
Anthony and Diana
I love the work of Jonas Bediksen. He is an extraordinary photographer. In part I love the ideas he has for his projects, but he has a pretty unique angle to him.
Plenty of photographers have brilliant, clever ideas for photo projects – but the execution of their ventures is not necessarily very interesting. Or it is over reliant on the concept itself to make the photographs interesting.
Or vice versa. You can have beautiful composition, beautiful images – but no thread or theme or idea running through your images.
Bendiksen to me brings these two skills together and his work is some of the best contemporary photography in my book.
So today I thought I’d explore Bendiksen’s most recent booked and share some of his advice about photography.
Jonas Bendiksen, “The Last Testament,”
For ‘The Last Testament’ Bendiksen spent time with six men who have publicly claimed to be the biblical Messiah returned. Each are convinced that they are the chosen one, and are here to save the world.
Bendiksen describes his approach to start the project:
“After lots of research to identify the right people, I reached out personally to six men purporting to be the Messiah, and explained that I was fascinated by their story and wanted to tell it. Then I immersed myself deeply into their theology and their view of the world while still trying to just be myself, to be open and curious to what they had to show me.”
What I most love about his approach is that he hasn’t addressed them from a point of ridicule or absurdity. It would have been so easy to set these subjects up look ridiculous. After all, they are making pretty incredible claims.
This openness to accepting the world through other people’s eyes and experiences is transformative to your abilities as a photographer. Not getting caught up in your perception, but allowing space for people’s ideas and views to be expressed.
“I didn’t go into this in a normal journalistic way, confronting the Messiahs with critical questions, or seeking to test their claims. I was much more interested in taking everything I was told and shown at face value, to see what the world looked like from their vantage point.”
Bendiksen approaches these subjects with deep humanity, deep interest and I think you sense that from his photos. It’s an ego-less experience, and one that is being totally curious about the world and people.
“I wanted to touch and feel what a world where Christ has returned would be like.”
To have a profound connection with your subject brings so much to your images. The more you learn about your subject, to understand and to feel life from their perspective, the more connected you will become with what you are trying to capture.
Again, this shows how your feeling about the subject can overwhelm your photograph. Think carefully about what your approach will be, think about how to remove your own perception from the image.
“People sometimes ask me about the humorous bits in the book. This was a knife’s edge that I tried to balance on. Of course there are some funny bits, and things that make people (including me) chuckle. But I’ve tried to not bring too much of my own humour into it, that the funny things come straight from the Messiah’s or communities themselves.”
Compositionally, I love Bendiksen’s use of colour. It is very simple, very striking and beautiful although, of course, simplicity done well is much harder to do than it looks. But it comes through practise and a commitment to bringing stories to life.
“I felt it was important to not really make a photo book per se, but something that brought the Messiahs’ own scripture to people, in their own words. And to make a book that somehow translated the truly magical worlds of these congregations. They see cosmic meaning in everything around them; signs from God and a key role in the endgame of the human narrative.”
Now, given how inspirational I find his work, I looked for some more ideas about what Bendiksen has said about photography.
Here are four great tips for your photo journey.
- Keep it simple with your images
“I guess I’m a fairly simple photographer. There is very little hocus-pocus about what I do” – Jonas Bendiksen
It seems to me Bendiksen spends a lot of time both developing his subject and the ideas for his work. Then he commits to telling the stories that he has discovered. It’s not about fancy camera work or technique. It’s true commitment to storytelling in a very humane way.
- Keep it simple with your camera
“I always say the perfect camera is a simple camera. It’s a small camera. You can remove 90% of all the custom functions and programs of most cameras, and I wouldn’t even notice. I use all cameras on a totally manual setting, always.” Jonas Bendiksen From Home project, Magnum Photos
For me this is what I am also committed to. Why learn all the variations and programs of semi-auto, when you can jump into the simplicity of learning manual? Having total creative freedom, and the ability to focus on subject rather than the camera. (This is my Simple introduction to shooting on manual and this is Why I shoot on manual)
- Photography is a language of its own
“Photography is a language for me. It’s a way to explore the world and make sense of it. And record my experiences of it.” Jonas Bendiksen
We don’t need to use any other language when it comes to our photos; we shouldn’t need to verbally explain them for them to communicate something. It may not be what we intended, but to communicate our experiences, ideas, feelings with our images is enough.
- Be brave
What advice would you give young photographers?
Bendiksen: “Throw yourself off a cliff. Figuratively speaking, I mean. Photography is a language. Think about what you want to use it to talk about. What are you interested in? What questions do you want to ask? Then, go for it, and throw yourself into talking about that topic, using photography. Make a body of work about that.”
The place to start with your photography is what you are fascinated by. Almost anything can make a compelling project. When you stay with a subject, explore it and develop your ideas around it so you come up with something unique.
Links and resources to explore:
- The Last Testament book
- 4-part documentary about the project: https://tv.nrk.no/serie/the-messiah
- More projects from Jonas Bendiksen
- Jonas Bendiksen Instagram
This fascinating 10 minute video explores the photo, ‘The Young Farmers 1914’ by August Sander.
August Sanders was a German photographer, who aimed to photograph people all over Germany in different professions for his project about people of the twentieth century.
The video poses some ideas about the young men in the photograph, their lives, who they were and what they might have been thinking about their lives ahead, before history intervened.
It’s also about what photography doesn’t tell, and what we can never know by looking at one mere frame of someone’s life.
This video explores the historical context of the photo and of the young men, who in this photo are on their way to a dance, but as the date indicates, are about to get swallowed up into World War 1.
The team at PBS also tracked down what happened to these three men, giving the photo a startling new atmosphere, once you know what lies ahead for them.
The presenter said this and it particularly struck me as a way that we respond to photography:
“Photography can make us feel like we’ve seen things we haven’t really seen. Or know people we’ll never really meet. But a picture is not a life. The Young Farmers is about what the boys don’t know, but also about what we don’t know, and what a picture cannot show us.”
David Katz’s story of photography is truly wonderful. Give it a watch and be inspired!
© Ara Güler
”Art is something important, but the history of humanity is more important, and that is what press photographers record. We are the eyes of the world. We see on behalf of other people.
We collect the visual history of today’s earth. To me, visual history is more important than art. The function of photography is to leave documentation for coming centuries.” Ara Güler
Last night I watched a documentary about the Turkish photographer Ara Güler, called The Eye of Istanbul. He died recently at the age of 90 and I wanted to reflect a little on his life today, as he had much to teach us about photography and living life with passion and purpose.
I truly admire Güler’s work, particularly of Istanbul in the 1950’s and 60’s. He has a particular style of capturing the feeling and atmosphere of a place that I find exciting and compelling.
When I was in Istanbul a few years ago I bought Vanished Colours, a beautiful book of his early colour photography, again all photographed around Istanbul (the documentary is called after his nickname, as he spent so much of his life photographing the city.)
I also love to share the work of people who have lived lives that have followed a deep and meaningful passion. Of people who have chosen a different path in life, and worked hard to make it successful.
As the only child of a pharmacy owner, Ara Güler could have stayed safe and taken over the family business. But he chose to follow an interest for theatre, into film and then finally photography.
He makes me want to work harder and go deeper with my photography. I feel encouraged when I see the range of his work, as he travelled all over the world, photographing everything from ancient ruins, film stars to war zones. But I love that he had this constant subject: the changing city around him.
I admit Istanbul is one of my favourite cities on earth. I find the place endlessly fascinating and could spend many more months of my life exploring it.
As someone who also photographs cities Güler is an obvious person for me to explore, although his approach is very different to mine, as his interest is people within the city, and the city is the backdrop. So much so that he said:
“A picture of a landscape is not a photograph. A photograph is not the capturing of a beautiful sunset or the like. When I look at a photograph I should be able to see what it is telling me. Does it have a story? That’s it. A photograph starts from there.”
His interest is the human condition, the lives that people are living. You can sense the ease with which he was able to be with people, make them feel comfortable, his patience and ability to engage people so he captures authentic emotion.
“I am not actually a landscape photographer. I am a photographer of living breathing people, of workers.” Ara Güler
He describes himself as a visual historian. And I like this, that we can record and share stories of the life that we see all around us.
“How valuable will the thing you find be for the history and future of humankind? Finding that is the issue at stake. That is the starting point of photography.” Ara Güler
Look for the quiet moments, the signs of life in the world around you
Professor of Photography, Mehmet Bayhan, describe Güler as:
“Looking for social layers and traces as much as any sociologist.”
I like that he uses the city in his photograph as part of the story. He is photographing people, but within the context of their location, to tell us more about who these people are and their experiences of life.
A famous quote of Güler’s is:
“When I’m taking a picture of Aya Sofia, what counts is the person passing by who stands for life.”
The fishermen in their tiny boat contrasting against the monumental mosque behind. The grandeur of the mosque, and the epic sunlight are not significant when you have fish to catch.
Güler talks about when he is standing at a big monument or mosque he will be looking for signs of human life – the person selling the flowers, the man cleaning the steps.
It is how the people are living that is important to him.
Bring sincerity to your photos of people
“Sincerity is perhaps the most basic concept that brings Magnum and Ara Güler together. People-focused, but also entailing sincere emotions when approaching people.” Kimar Firat, Mimar Sinan University
I really like this point – that the incessant curiosity he brought to his photographs of people was coming from a place of sincere interest. Not voyeurism or superiority. But a desire to connect with his subjects and show a moment of truth about their lives.
In a world that feels sometimes so intensely divided, it feels imperative for us photographers to use the power of our medium to connect people – rather than separate them. To tell the unique stories of people’s lives, which are really universal stories for us all. We are not all that different.
There are stories to be found everywhere
“There is something going on around people at every moment. To be able to capture that moment, one needs to be a good musketeer.” Güler
We are limited only by ourselves. Watch and be curious. Patience helps too.
“I waited an hour and a half once for a cat to pass me.” Güler
Capturing atmosphere and feeling
Güler’s photos contained such intense atmosphere. Look at this photo. What do you think he needed to do to create such feeling in this image?
“We could say that photography is the only language in the world that everyone can understand. You look at a picture and you get the message. Ara is one of those photographers who connected the whole world to his photographs.” Photographer Bruno Barbey
There is something very beautiful about the look of old colour film
The colours are different to what we see in film now. Combined with the subject of a city that has so dramatically changed, it gives such a wonderful quality of feeling to the images.
Look deeper into life
“Since we are men of the heart we are looking for something else in life.” Güler
To me I feel to step away from the ‘normal life tasks’, even if it’s only for an evening or a few days, is to release yourself from the things that seem to propel us into living life on autopilot.
I have been thinking about this recently. I had a conversation with a friend who told me that weeks of his life seem to run endlessly into others, to be so similar that time seems to pass without being noticed.
That made me feel sad. I know that I have had such times in my life, but to succumb completely to routine and habit is to dull the senses so much that you could argue you are barely living.
Moving beyond what feels easy and normal will awaken your mind and spirit, it will put your brain on high alert to the new situations, and that slows down time. When you are really, deeply, truly concentrating on something – life seems to come into sharp focus, so that you are totally present, totally aware of the task or new place you are in.
What brings you deep satisfaction? And how can you do it more?
© Ara Güler
Letting your imagination run free
Güler describes in the documentary an imagined scenario of when he once saw two chairs on the bank of a river, which happened to be facing over the water in opposite directions.
He imagines a story of lost love, of lovers being separated, of ships sailing past taking people away. It was fascinating because the photo is simply of two chairs, not facing each other. But there is another sense, another feeling about this photo that makes it more than just a photo of chairs.
That is because, I believe, of the feelings that Güler had whilst taking the photo. They are somehow imbued in the photo itself.
Güler said of the photo: “This is my most romantic shot.” And that after imagining this sad, romantic story, that yes, “you can photograph sorrow.”
This all about engaging our imaginations in our photos. It’s not just photographing things at face value. It’s allowing your imagination free reign to create scenarios and ideas so that your photos have other dimensions that are maybe not obvious to the viewer, but create a deep feeling within the photo.
When I talk about my photos I often say things like: It looked to me like a post-apocalyptic world and so I shot it with those ideas in mind or It reminded me of the light I would watch when laying on my parents’ bed as a child.
The resulting photos are then imbued with some of the feelings I had – maybe of wonder, nostalgia, fear – about the stories I had created of what I had seen.
Photography is simply a mechanism to capture light
“What are you going to find with that light?” Güler
I like this thought – this simple, clear thought and if you remember only this, it will serve you incredibly well in your photography.
Look at the light, find interesting light and go find a subject that will be served by that light.
To me that is the absolute essence of all photography. Find the good light, then find something interesting within it!
Photography can be a form of poetry
“Ara Güler is one of the philosophers of our era. We can see this in his images that have a poetic quality.” Actor, Şener Şen
Photography can be a form of visual poetry. It can take us to magical, faraway places. It can provoke day dreams and ideas, it can take us back in time to the feeling of somewhere we knew well…or not at all.
Photography is an incredible medium, because regardless of if you agree with my or Güler’s ideas about photography – you can always create something of your very own with it.
There is always something new to see, new stories to tell, and that I find ridiculously exciting.
I hope you have enjoyed those ideas and thoughts about Güler’s work. I loved spending time going through his images and evoking my experiences of Istanbul.
Here are some interesting links to explore more of Güler’s work:
- Ara Güler book: Ara Guler’s Istanbul
- Ara Güler book: Sinan
- Ara Guler website
- Documentary: The Eye of Istanbul
- Ara Guler Museum in Istanbul
- New Yorker: What Ara Güler saw in his homeland
I have been photographing Istanbul four years. I exhibited some of my work of the city a few years back in London, but I am continuing to build my story of the city. It will soon become a book, and at the moment I am also making a short film about my impressions Istanbul, as I continue to go back year after year to explore and see more of this mesmerising city.
You can read about my experiences over the past few years:
- My Photo Story: The Feeling of Istanbul
- BBC Turkey piece about my project
- Huffington Post: The Beauty and Serenity of Istanbul at Dawn
My photography workshop in Istanbul – April 2019
Each year I run a photography workshop for a small group of people in Istanbul, the next one coming up this April. I love to take people to all of my favourite spots to shoot – to explore hidden neighbourhoods, to watch the sunrise over the city, capturing the majestic mosques and views at dawn.
I love to take people wandering through the narrow streets, meeting people as we go and photographing the busy, bustling city that has layer upon layer of history embedded in this magical place.
I love to show people the amazing hospitality and food of the Istanbulites, the friendliness and welcome of the locals. Its a workshop full of long walks through diverse neighbourhoods, a lot of fun, beautiful food and of course incredible photography.
Journeying up the Bosphourous, capturing the sunset on the Asian side of the city and standing in awe at the majesty of the Blue Mosque at dawn. Come join me for an adventure for all the senses.
We will be there during the Tulip Festival in spring when 30 million bulbs are planted all over the city, and the vibrant colours and displays fill Istanbul with incredible colours.
This workshop is now 6 days, so we can see even more. Limited to 6 people. You can find out more and reserve one of the last spots on this workshop here.
That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this little sojourn into old Istanbul. Let me know what you think below. It’s always fantastic to hear from you.
Anthony and Diana
My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph. Richard Avedon
I hope life is good. We are settling into the lovely town of Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains of Morocco. We’ll be here for a few weeks as we love it so much. The colours, the light, the pretty town and the mountain views.
It’s easy to work here and I am doing a lot of great photography. We are all basking in the peace and calm of such a magnificent place.
Today I’ve been reading about the book – Nothing Personal – which I hadn’t heard of before. It is a collaboration between photographer Richard Avedon and writer James Baldwin. These are two men I really admire and whose work I delight in. I had no idea they collaborated in the 1960’s on a project about America.
Great self portrait by Avedon. A man of confidence! © Richard Avedon
Nothing Personal is being exhibited in New York and the book was just republished by Taschen. (Here is a blogger showcasing the previous edition on Youtube. Highly recommend it, it shows you the progression of the book – fascinating.)
Avedon was an amazing photographer, known for his fashion and portrait work. Baldwin wrote one of my favourite novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain, but was also an essayist, and political activist.
(I like to remind myself of these wise words of Baldwin when I think about my kids: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” James Baldwin)
James Baldwin © Richard Avedon
It turns out Baldwin and Avedon went to school together in the 1930’s and worked together on the school’s literary magazine, The Magpie:
“Even as teenagers, they, in their writing, dealt with profound issues of race, mortality, and, as Avedon wrote, ‘the future of humanity’ as World War II closed in on them.”
So besides alerting you to this interesting book, I thought this would be a good time to give you some tips and ideas of what we can learn from Richard Avedon.
There will always be people who hate your photos
Avedon was an elitist snob who deliberately set me up…The portrait is foolish, stupid, insulting. It makes me look like a complete idiot. Karl Rove. Photo © Richard Avedon
How many photos that I take of my wife does she actually like? Possibly only 1%, I am sorry to say. I can love a photo of her, and she hates it. But this is just par for the course of photography.
People will always have sensitivity about their own image. Let’s face it, we all have a vision in our head of how we’d like to look, and when photos don’t match up to that vision then we dislike them. Nothing us photographers can do about that! Except really, to not take it personally.
Do the best that you can, and accept that if you photograph people you’ll find a lot of them disliking the resulting photo.
Photo © Richard Avedon
From an interview:
Jeffrey Brown: Not everyone is always happy with the results. Avedon took this portrait of the renowned literary critic Harold Bloom.
Richard Avedon: And he said, “I hate that picture. It doesn’t look like me.” Well, for a very smart man to think that a picture is supposed to look like him… would you go to Modigliani and say, “I want it to look like me?”
You have to remember when you look at his photographs that Avedon will have had time with his subjects, will have shot many different photos – and most importantly chosen each image on purpose – to match his vision.
There will always be a range of expressions and poses, and part of the genius of photography is the edit, is the photos you actually choose.
There were probably plenty of images from this series of shots of these families posing and trying to put their best ‘image’ forward. Perhaps it was just time or boredom which got them to drop their facades. Photo © Richard Avedon
2. People will try to be seen in a certain way
Jacob Israel Avedon, © Richard Avedon
Avedon took some stunning photographs of his father, which he wrote about beautifully. He said:
His [Avedon’s father] allegiance was to the way he wanted to be seen; mine was to the way I saw him, which had to do not only with my feelings about my father, but with my feelings about what it is to be anyone. Richard Avedon in ASX
3. Photography is not the truth – it’s an interpretation
A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is truth. Richard Avedon
Photographers are opinion-makers, they are forming people’s interpretation of the people around them.
This is a beautiful portrait. But it is also not totally the truth, it’s a moment, captured. The skill in photography is recognising that, and also wondering, what would come next on your subject’s face? Photo © Richard Avedon
4. To be an artist— to be a photographer, you need to nurture the thing that most people discard….
….You have to keep them alive in order to tap them. It’s been important my entire life not to let go of anything which most people would throw in the ashcan. I need to be in touch with my fragility, the man in me, the woman in me. The child in me. The grandfather in me. All these things, they need to be kept alive. Richard Avedon
Photo © Richard Avedon
I like this quote so much. It is showing us that nothing in life is irrelevant to our craft. Watching the metal glisten on the train tracks as we wait for our morning train. Studying the face of a client at a meeting. Watching the shapes on the window in the dark of night as we lay with our child because they had a bad dream.
All of life informs our choices as photographers. You are never not taking in visual information! You can use the time when you are doing other things, to notice, to see, to feel, to absorb, to spark ideas.
Rudolf Nureyev © Richard Avedon
For me this is also about learning to live in a different way to others. Not gliding through life, to sometimes find the inane – fascinating; the boring -stimulating; the useless – useful. It’s those contradictions.
Sometimes I feel like I am going the opposite way to people in my life. Instead of building more security I am building less, instead of acquiring more things, I am discarding everything I don’t need.
And because “When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living.” James Baldwin
Plus when you think of doing something different or difficult, it’s useful to remember that:
“Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” James Baldwin
Barbra Streisand © Richard Avedon
I love the angular nature of so many of Avedon’s portraits. He uses the body in such an interesting way. Slightly reminds me of Bill Brandt, who had a very different style but he also made interesting shapes with the body.
5. I hate cameras. They interfere, they’re always in the way. I wish I could just work with my eyes alone. Richard Avedon
I love this. This is going beyond the camera and its many facets. It’s going beyond the tools and being someone with a vision and passion for examining life.
6. My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues. Richard Avedon
This makes me laugh! Because it’s true and also not true. So much is revealed in people’s faces, in a moment, so much is being communicated. And yet it is just a moment. It is just a fleeting moment that has been subjectively captured by a biased individual.
Photo © Richard Avedon
7. Don’t become obsessed with your subject
Whenever I become absorbed in the beauty of a face, in the excellence of a single feature, I feel I’ve lost what’s really there…been seduced by someone else’s standard of beauty or by the sitter’s own idea of the best in him. That’s not usually the best. So each sitting becomes a contest. Richard Avedon
When you become so involved in how interesting your subject is, you aren’t looking at them objectively, but almost as an element in your scene.
Very hard light on John Lennon here. But the effect is amazing. Photo © Richard Avedon
8. Work on connecting with your subject
Snapshots that have been taken of me working show something I was not aware of at all, that over and over again I’m holding my own body or my own hands exactly like the person I’m photographing. I never knew I did that, and obviously what I’m doing is trying to feel, actually physically feel, the way he or she feels at the moment I’m photographing them in order to deepen the sense of connection. Richard Avedon
Interesting quote. It shows us how important connecting to your subject is – and it’s not just about getting along with them. It’s about observing and connecting with their mood and energy, how they are feeling.
This is about observering and trying to allow the subject space, so they can unfold themselves.
In contrast, a very subtle light on Audrey Hepburn here. I love this portrait. Look at the connection she has with the camera and the photographer. Photo © Richard Avedon
I think I’m sort of a reader— I used to love handwriting analysis. But that’s nothing compared to reading a face. I think if I had decided to go into the fortune telling business, I would have probably been very good. What happens to me in work— I look for something in a face, and I look for contradiction, complexity. Somethings that are contradictory and yet connected. Richard Avedon
9. Fear is there, regardless of how accomplished you are
There’s nothing hard about photography. I get scared, and I’m longing for the fear to come back. I feel the fear when I have the camera in hand. I’m scared like when an athlete is scared, you’re going for the high jump. You can blow it. That’s what taking a photo is. Richard Avedon
I talk about fear a lot. I will continue. This is a reminder to me that it doesn’t matter how much you’ve done in your life, fear can always be there. And that’s OK.
Photo © Richard Avedon
10. Fear can also be useful
I think I do photograph what I’m afraid of. Things I couldn’t deal with … My father’s death, madness, when I was young—women. I didn’t understand. It gave me a sort of control over the situation which was legitimate, because good work was being done. And by photographing what I was afraid of, or what I was interested in— I laid the ghost. It got out of my system and onto the page.Richard Avedon
I thought this was quite a curious portrait for Avedon (of Malcom X) His photos are usually pin sharp, but I like the movement in this photo, © Richard Avedon
I’d like to finish with a short extract from an essay by James Baldwinwhich is think is really enlightening, about the role of the creative act in the day-to-day of life:
“Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone.
That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality — the banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed.
Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world.
There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone.
But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself.
The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
From The Creative Process by James Baldwin
Marilyn Monroe © Richard Avedon
Now a few further resources:
- Interview with Richard Avedon and Henri Cartier-Bresson
- Documentary I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House.
- James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction, Paris Review
- Documentary on Richard Avedon, Darkness and Light
I hope those have been some useful and relevant ideas for you. I’d love to know what you think – please comment on our blog.
I’d like to leave you with another quote from Avedon, which is a beautiful idea:
“If you do work everyday at your life, you get better at it. The trick is: to keep it alive. To keep it crucial.”
Anthony and Diana
In this article I want to bring you a collection of interviews from some of my favourite photographers – along with quotes and ideas of theirs that have really impacted me.
Each of them has a different philosophy and approach to photography, they all have different visions for what photography means to them. And that’s so exciting. Photography is not a one size fits all system. It’s an expression of who you are and how you see the world.
What makes these photographers work interesting is they have allowed their uniqueness to be expressed in their work.
So some thoughts and ideas to mull over. Enjoy! Some should hopefully explode as little nuggets of inspiration for you!
I love this guy. Called ‘the eye of Istanbul’ he’s been photographing the city since the 1940’s. I love intense feeling you get from his photos; fleeting moments of humans in the throws of life in this mesmerising city. I only discovered him when I started photographing Istanbul myself, but he’s someone I would totally recommend.
“They call me a photographer, imagine that! Son, I am a historian. I record history.”
A 2 minute intro to his work, beautiful!
Güler quotes I love:
“When I’m taking a picture of Aya Sofia, what counts is the person passing by who stands for life”
“A city means a place where people love to live, where people get a certain flavor out of living. Those are the places I love to photograph.”
My favourite book: Vanished Colours is extraordinary, but it’s super hard to buy outside of Turkey. He is amazing at expressing mood and feeling using colour. So go for his recent book Istanbul, which has a great collection of images from his long love affair with the city.
A short but interesting interview with the great photographer (don’t mention the war!) Some of my favourite quotes from the interview:
“When my time is up on this earth I want to leave a legacy behind of beautiful landscape pictures of Somerset. I don’t want to be remembered as a war photographer, I hate that title.”
“Every day to me is an opportunity is to discover something new, not just about myself but about the planet that I live on.”
McCullin quotes I love:
“I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does the job.”
“Photography’s a case of keeping all the pores of the skin open, as well as the eyes. A lot of photographers today think that by putting on the uniform, the fishing vest, and all the Nikons, that that makes them a photographer. But it doesn’t. It’s not just seeing. It’s feeling.”
“The real truth of life is on the streets. Photograph the daily lives of people, and how they exist, and how they fight for space and time and pleasure.”
One of those stunning individuals who has turned his hand to more than one art and excelled – photojournalist, musician, filmmaker. He was one of the first famous African American photographers, who captured a changing America from the 1940’s on.
“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.”
I love his quite perceptiveness and the emotional impact of his photos. He had a vision of what he wanted to capture – touch people with the stories he found – and he achieved it. His work is still very powerful today.
Parks quotes I love:
“The subject matter is so much more important than the photographer.”
“Enthusiasm is the electricity of life. How do you get it? You act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.”
“If you don’t have anything to say, your photographs aren’t going to say much.”
“I suffered evils, but without allowing them to rob me of the freedom to expand.”
Book: I think this will be my next purchase, Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Worth, showing the power of the story.
A beautiful film made by her daughter Doon after Arbus died. As well as some interviews with those who knew and loved her there is a running narrative of her words read by a friend. A very intimate look at an extremely talented and controversial photographer.
Arbus spent a huge amount of time getting to know her subjects and connecting to them, which I think was essential for the openness with which her subjects faced her camera. One of my favourite things that she says is she never arranged her subjects, she would just arrange herself.
Arbus quotes I love:
The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.”
“I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don’t like to arrange things. If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.”
“I never have taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse.”
Fantastic film about Salgado’s project Genesis, which was an epic 8 year project in the making. You have to see this, it will change how you see the planet.
Salgado quotes I love:
“The picture is not made by the photographer, the picture is more good or less good in function of the relationship that you have with the people you photograph.”
“It’s more important for a photographer to have very good shoes, than to have a very good camera.”
“I don’t believe a person has a style. What people have is a way of photographing what is inside them. What is there comes out.”
“If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture. That is my way of seeing things.”
I have always been in awe of Leibovitz ability to get celebrities to crawl in mud, balance on backs and generally act like fools. Just fantastic. In this interview she talks about one of her books, Women, and how she came to develop a unique project of a vast subject, even though it intimated her.
She gives us insight into her extraordinary ability to create unique portraits and the challenges she faces. I love what she says about photographing her mother – how that was tough because she knew how her mother saw herself – and that I think is what we all face when talking portraits. Can we capture who this person really is, and not who they think they are or what they want to be?
In the Diane Arbus film above she also talks about this – if you want to do portraits these two interviews are a must.
Leibovitz quotes I love:
“I’ve said about a million times that the best thing a young photographer can do is to stay close to home. Start with your friends and family, the people who will put up with you. Discover what it means to be close to your work, to be intimate with a subject. Measure the difference between that and working with someone you don’t know as much about. Of course there are many good photographs that have nothing to do with staying close to home, and I guess what I’m really saying is that you should take pictures of something that has meaning for you…”
“Photography’s like this baby that needs to be fed all the time. It’s always hungry. It needs to be read to, taken care of. I had to nourish my work with different approaches.”
“I wish that all of nature’s magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed.”
Favourite book: A Photographer’s Life is a really interesting book; mixed in with the portraits she is famous for are the photos she took in her day-to-day life. Her family, the death of her partner and father and the birth of her three daughters.
As she said “I don’t have two lives, this is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.”
And this is how most photographers images would appear, a collection of professional and personal. Because photography becomes part of every aspect of our lives.
Excellent short film about Adams skill of ‘pre-visualisation’, which for me is so important in my photos (although many photographers don’t do this. See Diane Arbus below.) It’s really about learning to see what the finished image will look like before you take the shot.
Adam’s son talks about the process of learning about pre-visualisation and clips of interviews with Ansel himself talking about his five key photo recommendations.
(And what I loved learning in this is Adams was weighing up a career in music or photography. Like me! Wow, I might be destined for greatness too :))
Adams quotes I love:
“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.”
Favourite book: At first I was going to recommend his series of three books about the zone system, but unless you’re into printing film then it’s not super relevant. So I’m suggesting his book National Parks instead which has many of his iconic images. If you are into printing and film then you’ll love The Negative, The Camera and The Print.
One of my favourite Magnum photographer. His book Satellites is my favourite photo book of the past couple of years. His use of colour, the subject matter…He rocks! Here is the essay behind the book.
“Throw yourself off a cliff. Figuratively speaking, I mean. Photography is a language. Think about what you want to use it to talk about. What are you interested in? What questions do you want to ask? Then, go for it, and throw yourself into talking about that topic, using photography. Make a body of work about that.”
The funny, rather spiky and interesting photographer answers questions about digital photography and ‘the best photo is the one I haven’t taken yet’ in the first of a series of films on this playlist.
Too many great books to pick one, but have a look at my post about Erwitt for some of things that I love about him.
Erwitt quotes I love:
“There isn’t much to learn about photography, everything you need to know you can find out by reading the instructions in the box. The rest is practise.”
“I wasn’t imposing my presence on anyone,..which is very important for a would- be journalist. I stayed back. Always let people be themselves.”
“After following the crowd for a while, I’d then go 180 degrees in the exact opposite direction. It always worked for me, but then again, I’m very lucky.”
When I think about why I take photos, and what it does for me, this is what I come up with.
It’s about not living on the surface, skating over the rich and beautiful experiences that life has to offer. It’s about diving in and connecting with the mesmerising qualities of light, the stark melancholy of dark thunderous clouds, the rich beauty of the deep shades of greens and opulent colour of a summer garden, the intriguingness of graffiti on a crumbling ancient wall or a face that feels un-watched and so reveals the mind’s emotions.
Photography pulls you out of your busy mind filled with to-do lists, emails that need sending, shopping that needs to be done, chairs that need to be fixed. It pulls you away from all of that and it plants you right here and firmly in this world.
When I am teaching people how to see like a photographer, they think I am teaching them how to see like a photographer.
But I am not.
It’s something way deeper, way bigger and way more impactful than that.
It’s like how people think when I am teaching them how to use a camera, people think I am teaching them how to use a camera.
What I am doing is giving people the tools (and the key) to unlock their creativity. And what that brings is an incredible freedom.
It’s about going from feeling like being just a cog that’s turning in the machine, and instead becoming an explorer of the deep mysteries of this incredibly, complicated, messy and mesmerising world.
Photography is a gateway to enjoying the richness and beauty of the world. It’s an excuse to take yourself off to explore, to examine and to dwell in places you find breathtaking; it’s a licence to talk to strangers and photograph everything that’s weird and wonderful about them; it’s a reason to get up at 3am and watch the life-affirming beauty of a sunrise.
It’s capturing that feeling of watching dusk fall over a wild deep blue ocean or in the chair lift as it slowly rises above the epic vastness of the Alps.
It’s a gift to experience life in a deeper and richer way.
That’s what photography brings to my life.
The tools I bring to teach photography come from my 20 year career as a photographer, an explorer and a creator. I have an insatiable curiosity and a desire always to make my images better, more interesting and most of all to have connect more with the viewer.
“When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” Robert Frank
Photography project by Anthony Epes, Part of the East End Film Festival
June 22nd-28th 2016
Spitalfields Market, Brushfield Street, London E1 6AA
Further details/exhibition link here.
Dawn, particularly in the spring and summer months, brings something incredible to our cities – beauty, serenity and emptiness. Even in Istanbul, home to over 14 million people, 4am on a May morning finds you wandering through empty streets as the colours of dawn break through a midnight blue sky.
As part of his series on Cities at Dawn, American photographer Anthony Epes spent several months in Istanbul photographing the city in the hours around sunrise. Anthony has captured the exquisite beauty of the light at dawn and the historic majesty of this ancient city – as well as the odd person he encountered on his travels.
“I photograph dawn partly because I love the combination of the incredible, almost ethereal light at sunrise and the fact that without the people dominating the city you get to see Istanbul as it is, just the buildings, the streets, undisturbed by the crowds. It’s almost as if the city takes on a serene and peaceful life of its own.
Dawn brings a deep, almost primal excitement at watching the rebirth of the day. There is a feeling of hope and possibility. Life is ahead of us. The mistakes of yesterday are long gone; the mistakes of today have yet to be made. It’s almost impossible not to be excited by the potential of the day.
It’s funny too – that dawn is a very inspiring time and yet most of us miss it. Yes being in bed and sleeping is great – but how about waking up a few hours earlier and watching something so breathtaking it changes how you see your city and makes you feel great just to be alive.”
See BBC World clip of Anthony talking about why he loves photographing dawn.
About Anthony Epes
Originally from California, Anthony has been living in London since 2000. Istanbul at Dawn is part of an ongoing series of projects on Cities at Dawn, and follows London at Dawn and Paris at Dawn (exhibited at St Pancras International and now both books) as well as Venice at Dawn. In 2014 Anthony exhibited his project on the Homeless World Cup, shot in Mexico City and Poznań.
Anthony’s projects have been covered on BBC World and CNN, in Condé Nast Traveller, Time Out, Atlas Obscura, Digital Photography Magazine, Hyper Allergic, French Photo Magazine, The Economist and many other publications.
Inspired by the Cities at Dawn series Anthony runs a series of photo workshops, taking intrepid city dwellers to explore the early morning streets of his favourite cities including London, Venice, Istanbul, Havana and Hong Kong.
Exhibition is part of the East End Film Festival, and kindly supported by Spitalfields Estate
“When I get up in the morning I brush my teeth and go about my business, and if I’m going anywhere interesting I take my camera along.” Elliott Erwitt
Elliott Erwitt is one of my favourite photographers. Even though our style is totally different I really feel like I get him – his style, his approach, his humour.
And if you’ve never heard of him, I guarantee that you will recognise some of his photos.
One thing I love about him is how unpretentious he is as a person. He is crazily prolific, has won a bundle of awards, published over fifty books and received accolades from a young age. And yet when he talks about his achievements he is super modest and quite disdainful of the hoopla around photography. He describes taking photos as “just composing all the parts in a rectangle.”
“There isn’t much to learn about photography, everything you need to know you can find out by reading the instructions in the box. The rest is practise.”
Right, OK then 🙂
If I try to nail down why Erwitt is a stunning photographer I think it’s because he is able to recognise a few incredible elements in a scene and react quickly. So here’s some thoughts on what we can learn from this fascinating photographer.
The decisive moment
Erwitt was inspired to get into photography when he saw this photo by Henri Cartier Bresson:
The Quai St Bernard, near the Gare d’Austerlitz railway station, Paris 1932. Henri Cartier-Bresson
He said of it – “The picture seemed evocative and emotional. Also, a simple observation was all that it took to produce it. I thought, if one could make a living out of doing such pictures, that would be desirable.”
Cartier-Bresson developed the concept of the decisive moment, and Erwitt is definitely a master of this concept. I think of the decisive moment as capturing a moment of life that tells us something about what it is to be human. Wikipedia says it’s:
“The decisive moment refers to capturing an event that is ephemeral and spontaneous, where the image represents the essence of the event itself.”
Let the drama of life just play out
Erwitt is particularly well known for these types of images, where he has seen something absurd or funny and been super quick to capture it in the decisive moment.
And this leads to a lightness to him that I really love. He is not going out with a bunch of preconceptions. He is just looking and that is tough for a lot of people. For some it comes naturally and for others it is something you have to develop. When people ask me what I was thinking when I took a photo, usually it’s nothing. That’s really the point – I wasn’t thinking at all. The thinking part of my brain seems to go silent, or dark, or I don’t know – switches off? Henri Cartier Bresson says:
“Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It’s drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it, or you won’t get it. First you must lose yourself. Then it happens.”
I think you see that in abundance in Erwitt’s photos. And I suppose it’s what we call ‘being present in the moment’ nowadays. This is something that I’ve always had, but I know people who have developed this ability (my wife! Miss never-stops-thinking) and so if you don’t have it, it’s fine. You brain has the ability to develop this skill – and you probably did have it once, as a child, so with training it can return!
Don’t take yourself so seriously
“I’m not a serious photographer like many of my contemporaries. That is to say, I am serious about not being serious.” Elliott Erwitt
A few years ago Erwitt created an alter-ego photographer, Andre S. Solidor who creates arty and pretentious images. He did it to “satirise the kooky excesses of contemporary photography” and “the art world”.
“I’ve always been a little suspicious of the art world anyway. I always thought that a lot of the art is simply what you can get away with.”
It’s a brilliant idea. I mean, isn’t there enough serious things in the world that need your serious attention? We don’t need to drag photos of landscapes or dogs or people going about their day on a Saturday afternoon into seriousness do we?
Wait long enough and you’ll take a good photo
“The ratio of successful shots is one in God-knows-how-many. Sometimes you’ll get several in one contact sheet, and sometimes it’s none for days. But as long as you go on taking pictures, you’re likely to get a good one at some point.” Erwitt
With my students one thing I see a lot of is impatience. People expect to go out for a few hours and automatically get a few good shots. Well inspiration / creativity / the weird universe doesn’t work like that. Sometimes I can go out day after day after day and get one or two shots, or nothing! Then bang, one day I get ten amazing, portfolio-worthy shots.
“Photography is pretty simple stuff. You just react to what you see, and take many, many picutres.” Erwitt
Just stick at it, is the main point.
People will tell you who they are
This is a crazy simple photo right, but the expressions are amazing. How many stories can you tell yourself about what’s going on here? It’s truly breathtaking what you see when you just look around and see how people expose their inner selves thousands of times a day – and tell you exactly what’s going on in their minds. You just have to be waiting around long enough, or watching close enough, to see.
Loose the theory
Elliott says “My ‘work’ is about seeing not about ideas.” But I see plenty of ideas in his work. It’s the idea of being human that maybe he captures. And the idea of being human is definitely interesting and never ending in its possibilities.
“You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.” Elliott Erwitt
Part of me wonders if he just waited for this shot, knowing that something like this might happen. But then I think no, I think his eye is so finely tuned for the extraordinary that he just saw this moment and got it. I think what brings the funniness of the photo to a pinnacle, almost like the cherry on the ice cream, is that the man who is almost in the centre of the frame wears a long mac. It’s like so many stereotypes all wrapped up in one photo.
Passion never gets old
Erwitt is extremely prolific and he’s done over eighty books, countless exhibitions and shot hundreds of commercial shoots. But he’s also done eight books about dogs. Amazing right? Doesn’t that inspire you to shoot what you love? Who cares if you’ve shot it a thousands times before. There is always something new to see and to say on a subject. Passion never gets old.
Asked why he shoots dogs he said: “It’s simple. I like dogs. They’re nice and they don’t ask for prints. They’re everywhere and we bark a common language.”
Asked why he shoots black and white – “It looks better. I have more control and everything is out of my darkroom. I work with a printer and supervise everything…When I take pictures for my own amusement, it’s black and white….for professional work, I don’t care.”
I don’t shoot black and white, and never have really because I really love colour. And when I was starting out, and still even now a bit, photography as ‘art’ was rarely in colour. Most masters were black and white. It took courage for me to go my own way with colour. Erwitt demonstrates courage in abundance. He shoots what he loves, in the way that he loves to and that’s it!
He’s a pragmatist (like me) and that’s OK
“How can I describe a picture? You look through your stuff, you find some good pictures, you print them. What’s there to describe?” Elliott Erwitt
My wife is always telling me that I am really pragmatic. And you know what – I don’t think pragmatism is very common in artists. Maybe it’s more common in photographers, but generally artists tend to be more idealistic types.
Maybe being a ‘pragmatic’ is why I feel weird when I am asked to describe my work and I don’t have that arty language falling off my tongue. I get really uncomfortable when people ask me what my photos are about. I want to say: this photo of a tree is about, well the tree? It’s a great looking tree, who wouldn’t want to take a photo of it? Which seems to be a disappointing reaction for people. People seem to want artists to have something really intense and profound to say about their work. But I like what Erwitt says about that – “The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.”
And so I love that here is this great photographer whose work is definitely art, and he’s showing us all that you can be a really pragmatic person and yet still insanely creative. He’s taught me that being pragmatic is totally cool. It’s who I am.
Two of my favourite photos from a photographer taking photographs of their family come from Erwitt. First is this very beautiful photo of his wife (his first, there have been others) and his daughter who was six days old. The two things are great about this photo: the incredible expression the mother has, which personifies the love of a mother doesn’t it? And the light falling across the baby and onto the mother’s cheek. See how these two stand out elements make the photo.
This is another reality-of-motherhood photo – right? Especially the holding of the kid on the hip. I’ve seen my wife be this amazing many times.
So with that I’m going to go back to my holiday hide-away. I’m going to think some more about Erwitt and other photographers I love, do some more reading and watching movies, and get myself juiced up for a big creative year.
I’d love to know – what do you think of Erwitt’s photos? Please comment on my blog – or reply to this email. I love reading what you all have to say.
Please share this post with photo-loving friends if you like it, sharing is much much appreciated it.
Anthony & Diana
Some extra resources
- Interview with Erwitt by his son Misha for the New York Times.
- This is a funny 4 minute video interview with Erwitt.
- Erwitt has been a member of Magnum since the early days, here is his page on the Magnum.
- This is a great longer video interview with Erwitt from the Visions and Images series. Very funny. Asked how he got to show his work to the curator at the Museum of Modern Art he said, ‘I got the bus’.
- This article is not about Erwitt but about how the decisive moment works in the human brain. Really interesting.
This week I thought it would be fun to answer the five questions I get asked the most.
What camera should I buy?
Not a straight forward answer I’m afraid because it all comes down to: What are you willing to pay? And how much camera to do really need. Be honest with yourself. So I can only advise – whatever you pick make sure it feels good in your hands. You’ll be carrying that baby around for years to come, so make sure you hold it before buying.
“The most important thing is to have a camera that you like, the one you like best. It has to feel right, its body, and you have to be happy with what you are holding in your hands…Then you have to go out and seek adventure, like a boat with all sails hoisted.” Sergio Larrain
Oooooh my lovely Hassledblad, I’ll never get bored of holding you. Most beautiful camera in the world (for me)
2. Will I ever be as good as you?
Probably not. But then I don’t know how to fill out an excel sheet, how the stock market works or what to do with myself in a meeting. I’ve put the 10,000 hours into my passion and so I think that’s paid off in my photos.
The 10,000 hours theory by Malcolm Gladwell is – in a nutshell – that by putting 10,000 hours into a skill it will make you a master, see here. And I like the sound of that, especially as I’ve probably by now put 20,000 hours into my photo-taking skill. So you can call me Super Master Anthony now 🙂 Or let’s call it ten years – only ten years to become a master. That sounds like a good deal to me.
The question then I think you really need to ask yourself is – Where am I going to focus my efforts over the next ten years? What will I focus my free time on? Will I be someone who creates? You don’t have to become a master, but consistent practise at anything will reward you with an exponential rise in your skills.
(To be fair and even handed, here is a rebuttal of the Gladwell theory.)
Who doesn’t want to do this? I can’t imagine. Looking at your negatives on a lightbox. Still cool after all these years.
3. Do you still shoot film?
Yes, not that often, but most of my books and projects are shot on my Hasselblad 503cx with 12-shot roll film, which at twenty-five years old is still as good as ever. Take that, DSLR’s!
And did you also know that old format cameras that many of the great masters of photography shot on are still better quality than most modern DSLR’s?
I am a bit of a meditator. I try to remember to keep it going in my life because it’s a beautiful way for me to remember to stay slow, stay present and not get sucked into the stress and whirlwind of my modern city life as a worker and as a parent. I like to be present with everything I do – if I’m taking a photo or playing at the playground (with my kids).
I started shooting film before I started meditating, but it feels like a similar vibe. Film is a slow, methodical process. I like the feeling of taking photos ‘on purpose’ and not just because of the temptation of filling my big memory card.
Meditation and photography seem to be a running theme this week – this is an interesting article that takes the connection between photography and meditation further. It seems a lot of meditation teachers are also photographers!
This article by photographer David Geffin about shooting film waffles a lot, but I like how he explains it as:
“Film forces you to work different “photographic muscles” much harder than when shooting digital.”
I also like this article on Phogotraphy about why you should shoot film- which includes this tidbit: “Did you know it can take up to three bracketed RAW digital files to achieve the same sort of tonal range some films can get?”
There is also the argument that film ‘just looks better’:
“It’s difficult to not take issue with this reason as there are plenty of Lightroom filter packs that can emulate different types of film photography, so in fact a RAW digital file has a great deal more scope on the final look than its traditional counterpart.
However… isn’t that just a little bit contrived? You spend thousands on the best digital camera and lens only to put it back through a filter to give it imperfections and restrictions only available in film?” – Phogotraphy
So this isn’t to pressure you into shooting film. It’s just to say – however you want to do things, do it. Ignore everyone else.
This is me blessing the sun god. Good natural light is super important to me as I rarely use artificial lights.
4. What lens do you use?
What do you like to take photos of? Every genre of photography has its standard focal lengths. So really it’s about where your passion in photography lies. Here’s a good article that explains it in depth.
Really what most people forget is the importance of good clothing when out adventuring. A good question to ask me is – what should I wear? Answer – good walking shoes, warm waterproof coat and a hat!
5. Is it fun being a photographer?
Yes – but it’s also frequently terrifying, super unstable, cold, weird hours, tiring (physically and emotionally)
It’s full of clients who ‘forget’ to pay you, impossible deadlines (shoot a book in 8 months, in a country that you don’t live in!).
But – for making my living, supporting my family and creating work that I love, fun is probably the wrong word. It’s possibly the most interesting and exciting and satisfying life I could ever imagine, even with all the crazy-making that it brings into my life.
See I told you it was tiring
So I am drifting off subject now, I’ve been looking this week at Jane Bown’s book Faces: The Creative Process Behind Great Portraits – which I really recommend. Great portraits – plus she talks about how she captured each shot. Lots of simple simple and useful ideas there.
She says that the hallmarks of her work are “dramatic contrasts of light and dark, the use of available light and a simple but effective composition.”
I loved this:
“I like pubs and bars, because the light comes from a variety of sources and directions and is usually atmospheric.”
“I really do love people and I think they pick up on that. Because they don’t have to perform they can relax and be themselves – in most of my successful pictures the sitters are at ease with themselves and the camera. Often the sitter will make a gesture, a movement or an expression that ‘makes’ the picture. Portrait photographs are joint creations – when a sitter admires a photograph I always say, ‘You did it.’ I like to think of myself as a truthful photographer.”
I like that – she was super humble, very clear and with a dedication to simplicity. A lot to admire.
I threw this one just to show that I can take being photographed, regardless of what I look like….just!
And one last piece of advice inspired by the master Mr Bresson:
“The creative part of photography is very short. A painter can elaborate, a writer can, but as it’s given, we have to pick that moment, the decisive moment.” Henri Cartier Bresson
And I would say then that even though the act itself of taking a photo is very short, the creative process leading up to taking that decision should be deep and long and thoughtful.
My recommendation is this: to improve as a photographer you should spend 20% of your time on the technical learning and post-processing and 80% of your time on creative learning. Now that could be researching a new photo project, or making an effort to really ‘see’ your walk home from work, or going to an exhibition, or reading a photo book….and of course the actual taking of photos – whatever it is that gets you inspired and gets those creative wheels turning.
So those are the answers. I hope you enjoyed them. Do you have a different question you’d like to ask me? I would LOVE to hear it. Please ask any question (as silly or serious as you like) on my blog or reply to me via email. And I will promise to answer.
Ask me anything! I promise I won’t laugh 🙂
So a couple of last things:
- I have now only three spots left open for my Light Monkey’s Photo Collective for 2016.It’s an amazing way to help you stay motivated, inspired and creative all year. Plus it’s open to anyone who has been on one of my workshops – regardless of skill. Passion is the most important thing.
Idea – Online Light Monkeys group:
A few people have contacted me asking about an online version of my Light Monkeys group – perhaps with a couple of meet-ups in London – but more of a focus online. This sounds pretty exciting to me. I love working with people regularly – seeing people develop their photography and working together to create and inspire. If this sounds like something you could be interested in please send me an email. I’d love to find out what people would like first before I develop anything (initial ideas would be portfolio reviews, monthly tutorials, online monthly group chats, group reviews of everyone photos, monthly challenges, a forum for asking/answering questions and help developing projects)
The photos in this post are from the most excellent Mr Paddy Bird who filmed me for a documentary and for his creative editing course, Inside the Edit. It’s an awesome, awesome course, would recommend you check it out.
Anthony and Diana
Greetings from a balmy Rome. Today I wanted to take a look at Ernst Haas, my favourite photographer and, hands down, the biggest photographic influence on my work. When I discovered his books in the 80’s I was blown away by the beauty he discovered in the most mundane views or objects: lines on a street, a shaft of light, a burst of vivid colour. Haas was a prolific photographer, working across multiple genres, but much of his photography involved creating very simple but stunningly compelling photographs, ones that are heavy with texture, beautiful light, sumptuous colour and most importantly, intense feeling.
Haas’s passions and way of seeing the world felt very similar to what I was naturally drawn to, and though my work isn’t particularly akin to his, there is definitely a strong influence. I cannot encourage you enough to look at his work.
Here are the things I have learnt from him:
Shadow on Pavement © Ernst Haas
- Beauty in the mundane
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself” Henry Miller
Haas’s simple photos of lines on the street and reflections completely opened up my view of photography. To see that mundane things like this could be considered interesting powerfully struck me. I know we see this in abundance now but to create something beautiful from mundane objects is actually pretty hard.
Pavement II © Ernst Haas
Of course it’s harder to take simple photos. To begin you need to find things that fascinate you and pay close attention to them. Examining what they are, what elements they are made up of. Taking things down to their simplest elements is very difficult. But that is what makes it interesting. It then comes down to feeling, how you feel about what you are looking at, what textures, colours you can draw out of what you’re photographing. What is the light doing? Every part of the photograph communicates something, and the less there is in a photograph, the more weight and meaning each element has.
2) How to dream with open eyes
“You become things, you become an atmosphere, and if you become it, which means you incorporate it within you, you can also give it back. You can put this feeling into a picture. A painter can do it. And a musician can do it and I think a photographer can do that too and that I would call the dreaming with open eyes.” – Ernst Haas
When you are looking around you and are taking photographs, you are entering a different state of mind. You are detaching yourself from being absorbed with your own mind and thoughts, and you are doing what Haas suggests, ‘dreaming with open eyes’. Haas was then able to see the beauty and feelings of things outside of himself – here of lights and lines.
Lights of New York, 1970 © Ernst Haas
For me it’s almost like remembering the best moments in my life, like time has slowed down. I remember the sunlight filtering through the trees onto my face as I lay looking up at the sky as a small child in Greece – the feeling of looking at the early morning sunlight coming into my bedroom and the texture of a cotton cover on my skin, as I lay in bed with my new girlfriend; the lines of shadow created by the blinds on the floor as I sat exhausted with my wife as she was in labour with our first child.
California, USA, 1976 © Ernst Haas
Photography is capturing moments of feeling, for yourself but also for others. And what the best photography does for me is create a sense of a memory, perhaps of something you might have experienced, or a connection with the photographer, of their memories, their experiences, their moments.
3) The world is just a jumble of….. interesting shapes, lines and more shapes
“Bored with obvious reality, I find my fascination in transforming it into a subjective point of view. Without touching my subject I want to come to the moment when, through pure concentration of seeing, the composed picture becomes more made than taken. Without a descriptive caption to justify its existence, it will speak for itself – less descriptive, more creative; less informative, more suggestive; less prose, more poetry.” Ernst Haas from ‘About Color Photography’
This is one of my favourite Haas photos. In so much of his work you can see an interest in lines and shapes. And that interplay of lines and shapes, combined with colour and light, are what make them so intriguing.
Western Skies, 1978 © Ernst Haas
When you get into looking at things, you start to see them more individually, less as a whole view and more as singular objects almost floating around in space. Here Haas was using many interesting shapes and lines – pulling the scene together and contrasting them creates a slightly disorientating, but ultimately pleasing, collection of shapes for the eye to see, and therefore a great photo. This comes from the discipline of careful looking.
4) Feeling of colour
Before I saw Haas’s work I didn’t realise that you could feel colour so intensely from a photo. Just like you can feel in your body the emotion behind a dramatic expression on a photo of someone’s face, you can also feel everything else in the photo – and colour is no exception. I suppose it’s like how struck we are by a beautiful red flower or the pinks and oranges of sunrise in nature. Everything that we see, and so everything that we photograph, has the power to make us feel.
Black Wave © Ernst Haas
5) It’s all about the light
Nevada Sky © Ernst Haas
Light for me is the number one consideration for photos. Most photographers are obsessed with light, it just comes down to priorities. Perhaps growing up in Southern California has made me more obsessed with colourful, dramatic light. Usually I vere towards wanting amazing light, but it can also be looking for an absence of light, looking for shadows, looking for what is happening, and the sensations that are created in low light. I talk more about light here and here.
6) Reality is subjective
“The camera only facilitates the taking. The photographer must do the giving in order to transform and transcend ordinary reality.” Ernst Haas
This is another of Haas’ interesting compositions, a seemingly disjointed photo, with various shapes and colours and different light sources (the ambient light, the light from the bar, the reflected lights on the car)
USA, 1968 © Ernst Haas
To take this photo you have to be looking and waiting and watching. Breaking down the world into different parts, finding shapes or colours or views that interest you and waiting for other elements to come together into the frame. If I find one interesting element I stop and look around, if I find two or three I am definitely waiting around for something else to happen – perhaps for the light to change, or someone to walk into shot. You won’t always get it, but start with looking for one interesting element and work from there.
“In every artist there is poetry. In every human being there is the poetic element. We know, we feel, we believe.” Ernst Haas
7) The fun you can have with a reflection
Haas did some pretty epic reflections. I love reflections and I love how Haas took it to a whole new level. He’s using shapes again, interesting shapes to contrast and place and change the view. Because that’s how we see the world, isn’t it? Not as one straight forward view but by multiple angles, layered and busy. Haas had a great ability to reflect in his work some of the chaos that our eyes see, before our brain has worked on it and made it easier to understand.
New York, 1975 © Ernst Haas
Reflection, 42nd Street © Ernst Haas
8) Seeking inspiration from multiple sources
Haas warned against seeking too much direct inspiration as it “leads too quickly to repetitions of what inspired you,” and instead recommends you to “refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
I think of it like the roots of a tree drawing water and nutrients from a wide area. Bring multiple sources into your own creative filtering system. I go through phases of looking at other people’s work, but I don’t feel bad if I go months without looking at another photographer’s work, because sometimes other photographs are interesting and inspiring but other times it’s confusing and not helpful for me in creating something distinct and original. Of course that’s not the only way to be – this is just what works for me. So I read, listen to music, walk, talk to people. Live, basically. That’s what does it for me.
“Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” Henry Miller
But also! Don’t think too hard about it or take anyone’s advice too seriously or dogmatically. No-one has the answer that’s right for you!
“Style has no formula, but it has a secret key. It is the extension of your personality. the summation of this indefinable net of your feeling, knowledge, and experience.” Ernst Haas
9) Forget about art
“One cannot photograph art’” Ernst Haas
By this I take the idea that there is no one way to create art. There is only living and feeling and looking and learning. And wrapping this all up into expressing yourself. Art is what is decided when people start looking at what you’ve done, after you’ve taken the photograph, not before.
10) “Colour is joy” Ernst Haas
I love working in colour, it’s excites me. I have said many times and will continue to bang on about this – what you should be concentrating on in your photography, or any creative medium, is the things that excite you. Haas introduced me to a vast world of colour photography – but what is so interesting about his colour work is the feelings he got from his colours. It’s like he is completely connected to what he is photographing and you feel you are there, in the picture.
California, USA, 1977 © Ernst Haas
11) Love simplicity
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
There is something deeply cathartic about seeking out simplicity. Life is complicated enough: a strange combination of long stretches of the mundane and a mad puzzle at others. I like to seek out things that pierce the bubble of life, that remind me of simple pleasures. And Haas did that brilliantly. You don’t need to go to far flung places, or look for ‘interesting’ people or things to photograph. You could just take a drive and see what happens…..
Twilight USA, September 1977 © Ernst Haas
“The best pictures differentiate themselves by nuances…a tiny relationship – either a harmony or a disharmony – that creates a picture.” Ernst Haas
12) It’s OK to love to photograph beauty
“All I wanted was to connect my moods with those of Paris. Beauty paints and when it painted most, I shot.” Ernst Haas
View from Notre Dame, 1955 © Ernst Haas
(see, strong lines again!)
There is a weird cycle in photography, and in the art world. Every now and again the mood seems to be to reject beauty. It is as though by celebrating what is naturally beautiful you have been taken in by something that is too easy to admire; it’s not challenging enough (as though we need more challenges in life, jeez!) But Haas rejected this, and I admire him for that. Even when his work fell out of fashion (he was a super famous photographer in the 1950’s and 60’s, but the art world fell out of love with him from the 70’s onwards. He is nowhere near as famous as he should be, and has become more of a photographer’s photographer, because I think photographers realise how amazingly hard it is to photograph is such a consistently beautiful and simple way ).
But what’s fascinating too is that it was not just straightforward beauty that he was photographing. Everything has a story, perhaps an edge or complexity that reflects beauty in real life. Life is not straightforward and neither were Haas’ photographs.
13) Photography can create movement
(Another) thing I love about Haas is how he continued to develop and push his work to explore different ideas and themes. There are many famous photographers who get known for a style and then get stuck there (and plenty of non famous ones too). It’s easy to find something you are good at and just focus on that, almost like you are holding on to it for dear life. But as Haas said:
“Don’t park. Highways will get you there, but I tell you, don’t ever try to arrive. Arrival is the death of inspiration.” Ernst Haas
Haas’s experimentation with movement in photography was a style he worked and developed over many projects. I love how the colour and the story of the photo seem to be enhanced by the movement. Again, simple, colour and shape driven. Beautiful.
La Suerte De Capa, Pamplona, Spain, 1956 © Ernst Haas
So I thought I’d finish with a some ideas on how you can get into an Ernst Haas inspired photo mood. Ask yourself:
What simple things totally fascinate you? What could you go out into the world and truly and deeply examine? I love photographing lines on the road, and how they can take you somewhere, or nowhere at all (thanks Ernst!). I also go pretty crazy for reflections.
Perhaps for you it could be:
- the look of bare feet in grass
- street lights at night
- texture of the hair of your dog
Examine these things. Thinking of them as mere objects, not what they are connected to, what their purpose is, what they are. Just think of what you see in your gaze and your imagination. And then when you are totally happy you have looked and examined closely enough, then you are ready to get out your camera and start to experiment…….
And for further inspiration, some good articles about Haas here and here. A lot of the quotes I took from Haas are from this article that he wrote about his philosophy of photography on the Ernst Haas estate website. There is also an Haas exhibition on at the Atlas Gallery in London until July 4th of an early project ‘Reconstructing London, visions of the city after World War II.’
I’d love to know what you think of Haas’s work and what you’ve learnt from him. Send me an email or comment below.