The elusive next level?

April 2016

Stepping up?
The elusive next level often gets bandied around like it's an achievable goal, a hope that by stepping up a level will lift us to a better photographic status. The amazing thing is when you meet somebody with maturity in any field, they generally play down any notions of being on a higher step. They often display a different quality, an inner belief and maturity that manifests itself in a very self effacing way. They are more likely to be quite uncomfortable with the raised expectation and approval of others, preferring to concentrate on their inner reasons for doing what they do rather than whether others give them a raised status, David Attenborough springs to mind.

Photographic growth
We are all fortunate enough to have been born in the ‘photographic’ growth era. The time when camera technology has progressed from generation to generation, when even my 16 month grandson knows to look at the LCD screen after an image has been made. Stories of the ‘first cameras’ owned often evoke the same affection and precious memories as that of our‘first car’. Of course, that first camera was undoubtably non-technical and would never stand up in today’s advanced world, anymore than a 1960’s Ford Anglia would perform well on today’s roads. Technology in both cases, was uncomplicated, fondly remembered for the experience of its time. If we look back at the times when things were comparatively simple, were they better or worse? Did our Box Brownie, Olympus Trip or Kodak Instamatic take better images? Of course not, but the everlasting memory of using and producing photographs with them probably stays firmly fixed as a positive and an uplifting experience.

The joy of the biscuit tin
I once met a young lady attending a workshop who had never before seen a roll of 35mm film. She was fascinated when I explained how it worked – sadly I had no film camera with me to demonstrate the mechanics, but her humorous reaction to the photographer having to wind the film on, was priceless, I felt like a dinosaur! My memory of family holidays was the looking back at the slides (remember slides?) through a 2’’ slide viewer. The more affluent had slide projectors! Then of course there was, and still is, that old biscuit tin full of photographs, so lovingly cherished … tell me you don’t have one! Funny as it seems now in this multimedia, instantly visual and computer chipped world, but I think we have lost something of the joy of these simple pleasures and experiences.

Hidden thread
It’s good to remain nostalgic and continue to debate the good and bad points of bygone era’s, but there is a hidden thread lurking beneath all those discussions that is still prevalent in today’s technological world. The fact that, no matter what the camera, or lens, or film, slide or general photographic medium, whether it be in the 60’s 70’s, 80’s … it’s the experience we fondly remember!

So why then are the technical advances that are so fleeting and only relevant this week, month or at best, this year … so important to photographers? Why is so much importance put on the pixel count of the sensor or the dynamic range of rival cameras? The truth is, none of these issues are that important. The manufacturers trip over themselves to give us that extra gizmo or technical advancement and then, through clever advertising, will try to convince us that we need them to be become better photographers!
Will a painter be any better by owning a better paint brush? Will we be better drivers by buying a newer car? …maybe or maybe not, but we still need to go through the experiences of the drive.

One of the great joys as a tutor, is watching a photographer learn the rudiments of photography and seeing a creative maturity grow that only comes over a period of time. I also see the opposite happen, whereby a very enthusiastic new photographer falls foul of the manufacturers curse and develops a ‘must have’ mentality that often fudges the real reason for making photographs. Ultimately this path will only serve to block their creative growth.

During an exhibition a number of years ago I had a local artist buy an image of mine on display. In my eyes I always looked up at him, he was on a much higher step than little ol’ me, his images are displayed in the National Portrait Gallery for goodness sake! … he’s big in the art world! I plucked up the courage to ask him why he bought my image, his answer was not what I expected, “ I want to paint it” he said. His joy in that image wasn’t to copy my image, but to experience the painting of it. I was touched that he liked my composition and presentation, but ultimately his experience was what mattered to him, not mine! The experience is the key, the joy of creating, the inner joy of knowing we made something unique. If someone else flatters us by wanting to replicate it, then that is no more than a compliment. So if you are searching for your next level, ask yourself the simple question … am I enjoying and engaging with the experience or am I looking for my growth elsewhere?

The thread of positivity
The image making experience is the draw. It is the single thread of positivity that keeps our interest. It has been there and remains to be there through the generations. Just as in any art-form, the creative image making process is the core of continuity that inspires old and new photographers alike. The technology will come and go, be superseded and may even become a subject of humour, but the creative experience will continue to live on in our memories, just like our first experience with a camera!

The elusive next level? ... that's simple ... enjoy the next experience of creating!