In February of 2014 I went for a chat at my local college. Never could I have imagined the impact this small action would have on my life and my photography. Almost three and a half years later I'm saying a very sad farewell to staff who have seen me through my degree and attempting to forge ahead, out in the real world, and at this point the thing I'm getting asked the most is, "what are you going to do now?".
This is hard to answer because most of the people I speak to struggle to grasp the purpose of something without a tangible value. They assume I'm going to head into wedding or portrait photography and I've seen many people recoil when I explain that no, I'm going to produce fine art photography and I most probably won’t ever make a living from it.
"But why?" Is usually the next thing they ask. They want to know why I'd spend so much money, time and energy learning a trade that probably won't ever be my sole source of income. And that is hard to answer without coming across as pompous, arrogant or, alternatively, vague and somewhat vapid.
There's a general consensus that we fear what we don't understand and I believe this can be applied to art. We seem to lose the hunger we had as children to explore and learn, and instead become focused on what we know and like, and when something new comes along people have a tendency to shy away from the unknown.
I didn't know quite what the end goal was when I started the degree. I knew I loved photography but the commercial work I'd been doing just wasn't ticking my boxes. I had a craving and no matter how many weddings or portraits I shot I couldn’t find satisfaction. During the first year at college I was taught the tools of the trade; the various cameras, formats, genres, the history, the why, where, when and how, but heading into my second year, things started to click (pun intended).
I began to find my feet, paying attention to photographers I liked, listening to tutors recommendations and advice and developing my style. I learned that I loved images and series with a narrative - something that shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise given my love of reading. I found myself drawn to ambiguous narratives; the types of photos that could have come from ancient story books found in your grandmothers attic, that hint at a deep dark secret that if you’re lucky you might just figure out. I loved creating a set out of nothing and bringing the characters in my head to life on sheets and strips of film.
I developed a taste for fine art photography and my love of analogue photography blossomed under the watchful eye of the most enigmatic, encouraging and enthusiastic darkroom master I could have asked for. But no matter how much he taught it was never enough and I’m sure my thirst for finding out how to produce the best prints I could must have driven him nuts. I’d found my passion and there was no stopping me.
By the time I had finished my second year, I’d found (with the tutors guidance) what I’d been looking for. I’d found my calling as it were, and I knew then what kind of photographer I was supposed to be.
My work tells my story. Take my final major project, “Bringing Down The Very Hungry Snatchabook”. Boiling it down to it’s fundamentals, it’s a series depicting my fear that children’s media has taught my daughter that looks are the single most important factor when it comes to a persons worth. It’s a reminder from me to my children, asking them to cherish diversity, to ignore the corporations telling them that in order to be loved, wanted and accepted they have to look a certain way, buy a certain product or wear a particular brand. It’s me reassuring them that they are perfect exactly as they are. Of course there’s so much more to the series than just that, it’s as layered as an onion and hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, it means something slightly different to each person viewing it. But that’s what I want, that’s why I created it, that’s what I learned from my degree.
These last three years didn’t simply teach me how to take a photograph, or what chemicals to use in the darkroom. No, my tutors and the support staff showed me how to use my ‘voice’, they gave me the tools necessary to free my creativity and showed me which road to head down. It’s not about the money, the accolades, the recognition or any of the other tangible markers of ‘success’, it’s about freedom, it’s about passion and it’s about taking what’s on the inside and letting it out.
Why? Because I love it. That’s why.