Do you know who your influences are?
I thought I did; my high school art teacher who taught me the basics, my friends who went to art school and who showed me the much deeper world of art, friends I met through Flickr whose work inspired me, people I’ve met at photography events whose words have enthralled me and, of course, many great masters including Brassai, Bresson, Liebovitz, McCurry, Erwitt, Todd Hido, Gregory Crewdson, etc. etc. (the list goes on and on).
But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered my ‘unknown influences’.
I’ve long wondered what makes one person have a passion for macro photography, while another sees the world through landscapes. Why one person immerses themselves fully in the world of street photography and another is devoted to portrait photography.
There are so many genres of photography, and for each you can find a passionate devotee.
For the past few years I’ve forced myself to shoot a wide variety of subject matter and styles. I believe there is benefit to specializing… to ‘finding your niche’. But I’ve been unwilling to commit, feeling it better to at least first try a diverse range before setting limits. To dabble with the rich pallette that is photography before picking favourites.
Yet early on I knew. I quickly discovered a few favourite genres. I still shoot broadly, but see myself constricting my interest over time.
What are these areas of photography and how are they related to ‘unknown influences’?
I think I can say without much surprise that Night Photography, Model Photography, and what I like to call ‘Observational Photography’ (and I suppose others might loosely call Reportage) are the genres that speak strongest to me.
But why? Why those genres in particular??
I had simply always thought the answer to be ‘because they’re cool (duh!)‘
Obviously that’s not correct. Or, at least, not fully (after all, many would argue that Wildlife photography is ‘cool’, or that Sports photography is ‘where it’s at’, or that… well, you get the idea).
It wasn’t until I was preparing some reading material for an upcoming 6 hour flight and vacation that I had an ‘ah-ha!’ moment regarding perhaps how my favourite genres came to be.
Looking to load-up my iPad with something other than the usual reading I’d been doing of late (mostly non-fiction) I decided to do some ‘throw-back’ reading and re-visit some of the authors I had read growing up (Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Robert E. Howard, Robert Heinlein, Michael Moorcock, Spider Robinson, Ray Bradbury, etc.)
In my quest for such an e-book I stumbled across the Heavy Metal website.
I read Heavy Metal regularly growing up (along with ‘EPIC’ magazine). What fun these mags were, offering works derived from some of the great authors mentioned above and combining it with awe-inspiring artwork! Short stories, perfect for vacation reading. I downloaded the latest e-edition.
Reading through the magazine brought back further memories. The posters. The jigsaw puzzle I coated and hung on the wall. The book and magazine covers. All the great Sci-Fi and Fantasy artists whose work had surrounded me (and my friends) many years ago; their works re-discovered in the attic of my mind: Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Luis Royo, Simon Bizley, Julie Bell, Richard Corben, Brom, Serpieri, Jon J Muth, Kent Williams, etc.
And that’s when it hit me.
The paintings of Frazetta for example often show the subject against a nondescript backgrounds with little detail. The colours are often warm and bleed together. Is this why I like night photography where the subject stands out and the background fades to a nondescript detail-less canvas? Where luminescent colour often dominates the image?
There’s no end of sexy women depicted (un-arguably in 70’s and 80’s sexist fashion!) in Sci-Fi and Fantasy art. Is that why I enjoy model and cos-play photography?
The images have a strong sense of story telling, or are accompanied by story. Is this why I like reportage (and to ramble on about photography in BLOG postings?)
I’m no Freud, but I can’t help wondering if sometimes a cigar is more than just a cigar…
Please note that I do not mean, in any way what-so-ever, to compare myself to the amazing artists noted here (there is none). Rather, I cite them as a source of inspiration and influence to myself and, I’m sure, many, many others.