This used to be the page where I told you all about my photography backstory.
Details of when I first picked up which camera and how that evolved and changed, moving from film to digital throughout the years.
But who really wants to hear about that? I think what’s more interesting - to me at least - is where I am now.
When I tell people I’m a photographer, the first thing they almost always ask is “what do you photograph?'' And for a very long time I could only answer by blurting out “well, everything!”
It’s really not a good answer. Actually it’s a terrible answer - neither useful, revealing or entertaining.
So I decided to take a long look back through my Lightroom catalogue - about 50,000 images - to see what I actually do photograph.
And, discounting the first 10,000 (they’re always the worst, right?), It turns out I mainly photograph just three things: shadows, textures and corners.
I. Love. Shadows. Photographically, I live for them. Really deep, dark, black, solid, sharp, shadows. There’s a reason I’m never going to win points in any camera club competition. I honestly believe deep in my soul that if there are shadowy blacks in an image, they should be solid dark sculptural shapes. Subjects in themselves. The sort of black that Dylan Thomas might call “sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack” black.
I’ve often said that I find photography a reductive medium - much more like sculpture than painting. When I’m working I’m always trying to take things out of the image until the picture I’m looking for is what’s left. I try to remove distractions and unnecessary information and - in an ideal world - what’s left is the best image of that subject at that particular time. More signal, less noise if you like. It works for me.
Looking back through my photographs, so often the many, many images that just don’t work are the ones where there was too much information left in the frame when I pressed the shutter...
Edward Hopper said that he spent his life trying to paint light, but the problem was “it kept falling on things”.
I guess that when what you photograph are shadows, this is less of a problem.
On those occasions when light does creep in, I find myself drawn to textures. Plush velvet curtains, a century old floorboards, the flaking of paint off metal and masonry. In the living world it’s tree bark, running water, leaves and the skins of flowers as they start to decay.
Once you start to really see textures as subjects in themselves, you can’t stop yourself or control it. It’s like that kid in The Sixth Sense but with the wet sand on the beach as the tide goes out rather than sad and angry lost souls looking for resolution.
Whenever I find myself in a place I’ll be photographing (either it or people or an event), the first thing I always do is simply wander around and use the camera to record the available textures. I find that these textures can often help define our feelings towards a place in a similar way to colour and temperature. For me, it’s a useful way of mentally bookmarking them so that I can try and bring out the best in them while I work, whatever the job might be.
Going through the back catalogue of unused images on a spare afternoon, I’ll often find myself drawn to a simple image of a texture that I've photographed for its own sake and will play with it for a while to try and bring out the beauty it was hiding in plain sight.
And, it seems, another subject to file under “unused images that I often spend hours editing on a rainy day” is corners.
By far the most interesting parts of any space or room for me are the corners. They give shape to it, create the verticals and the perspective and can bestow a wonderful sense of balance to an image. Getting the corners “right” - or being unable to - for me is often the key to making or breaking an image.
And maybe it’s because shadows tend to live here too? LIke ghosts and shadows, corners are often called “dead”, but for me, they are always alive with possibility.
I do like trying to work the corners of the space I’m photographing and the corners of the image frame together. Done right this alchemy can create a wonderful “third effect” all of its own.
Ironically, as much as I love them, I find that they are hard to work with if I’m trying to create simple portraits and don’t want to make a cliched image. Maybe I just need to be a better photographer?
PS: If you came here for the original content on this page and you’re interested in what’s now ancient history, I’ve archived it here. You’re welcome.