Why I think Photography is like a Patchwork Quilt.

Boy it was hot…

About 35 degrees Celsius in the shade yet there I was out under this baking sun taking a photo of some picture frames on a table. The resultant image was hardly going to be a Henri Cartier-Bresson!

The friend I was with noted the mundanity of the subject and asked why I was – in effect – wasting my time trying to photograph it. I then muttered something along the lines of…

I think photography is like a patchwork quilt. A narrative. Along with the pretty squares you need the thread that holds everything together.

The shot I had just taken (pictured below) was a piece of ‘thread’.

Play to your strengths.

Technically I am a sub par photographer. I never shoot in full manual mode – it frightens me. I find working out shutter speed to aperture ratios more akin to mathematical tables than art. Photography has never been the ‘day job’ for me so I am fully aware that I haven’t put in the years of practise and/ or tuition needed to attain a mastery of ‘M’ Mode.

What I lack in technical proficiency I try to make up for in other areas. Like a tennis player who has to hide their backhand. I have been told on a few occasions that I have a certain ‘style’ to my photography. That could be good or bad I guess.

If I allow myself to discard my perma-self-doubt for a moment and consider these comments in a more positive light I think potentially that I may have a modicum of talent at – storytelling. Or in other words – constructing narrative through images.

I have never really been a ‘hero photo’ type guy. I normally photograph many, many scenes and subjects. I then hope to produce a definitive batch. An amalgam that gels as one representing what I saw or where I visited. I guess this comes from a background of producing images to be used across the pages of travel brochures or uploaded to the various blogs I have run over the years. I try and present a visual smorgasbord.

I love Vietnam and its people

I love Vietnam and its people

Lucky me!

I’ve been lucky with timing I guess and can get away with automating some aspects of photography. As Cartier-Bresson once quipped…

Your first 10,000 photos are your worst

And he used film and a dark room. Every shot was precious and if you were ‘serious’ about photography you better also seriously be au fait with the settings on your camera and know how to use them expertly. It would be an expensive and deflating waste if you didn’t.

Digital photography enables you to be lazy. You don’t actually even need a camera any more. Your phone will more than suffice. The proliferation of mega mega-pixelled smartphone cams, apps & filters have removed all barriers to entry. Anyone is now a photographer and I am also a beneficiary of what digital can offer.

Click here to view these images on Instagram.

I am certainly generous with the amount of shots I take. My mantra for a day’s shoot is “one’s enough” meaning I hope to get at least one killer photograph. The more the merrier of course but by setting the bar low, like a limbo pole for an ant, expectations are normally only exceeded. Did I mention some self doubt in this article? So yes I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to learn all the technical aspects of photography and haven’t needed to be as judicious with shot selection as my photographic forebears. I remember watching a documentary once with a piece-to-camera by the venerated artist Chuck Close. I scribbled down what he said for a rainy day. He mused…

Photography is the easiest medium in which to be competent… but the hardest medium in which to express some kind of personal vision… because there is no touch.

I completely concur with these words particularly when you consider that everyone has a camera in their pocket these days. This concept is something that drives me when I head out with my SLR slung over my shoulder. I don’t consider myself a photographer rather an observer. I try and collate a suite of photographs that act as a personal signature. I am always acutely aware that I may have been capturing something that has been photographed hundreds or even thousands of times before. It is a challenge to bring interpretation to the inanimate.

The gardens of The Louvre

The Tuileries Gardens, Paris.

Click here to view this image on Instagram.

Patience truly is a (photographic) virtue.

In life I consider myself to be intuitive and know that I possess more than a draw full of stubbornness. Stubborn sounds nicer than obstinate doesn’t it?

Both of these traits are particularly handy for photography I believe. I will wait for hours if needed for the ‘right light’ (which can never be improved-on in post-production) and often see a potential photo before it happens. Or more accurately I should say the potential to take a shot before it happens. Lady Luck is always a bedfellow for the photographer. In my case more than controlling the right place/ place right time variable I need her help to ensure a sharp and crisp focus.

Annie Liebowitz says…

A lot can be told from what happens in between the main moments

Hallelujah. So true but I fear now we are a global society too busy to focus on much other than the ‘main moments’! Online and technological revolution has changed, in my opinion, how art is consumed. It’s now bite-sized and one-stop.

Playlists not albums.

For music it’s iTunes and Spotify. Single tracks – the hits or a playlist of hits. Visually it’s Instagram or Pinterest. Uploaded ‘hero shots’ and peer validation via ‘likes’ There is little room for nuance these days – it gets easily drowned out in the Social noise.

Remember albums? LPs that ebbed and flowed. Tracks that were written as the ‘singles’ but others that were still lovingly recorded and positioned precisely to guide and transition the mood of the listener on their musical journey. They weren’t ‘fillers’, both a mid-album track and the single were equally as important. A journey is what I try and deliver with my photography. Like music sometimes successfully and sometimes less so. Pretty #Oldschool huh. And proudly so.

So back to that photograph of picture frames on a table. Here it is in the montage below.

Untitled design (13)

The suite of images are from a country market on a boiling hot day. I had a lovely time in the company of my best mate just wandering and taking photos, despite the heat. It’s what I do. I travel to learn and observe to understand.

The last word…

So there you go. This is my patchwork quilt approach to photography. I would love to hear yours and hope if you are also a passionate photographer you will leave a comment below. I’m going to sign off with my favourite photography quote. The salient words of photographer Elliot Erwitt

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them

About Saxon

I'm passionate about travelling, music, photography, blogging, 'Social Anthropology' (the posh term for people-watching) and creating content. I travel to learn and observe to understand. My dream day would look something like this.... A bottle of red (or two), fresh baguette (or two) & wedge of Camembert (or two), a balmy Paris September eve spent people-watching in fine company on the banks of the Canal St Martin.

There are 18 comments

  1. allthingssophie

    I love this! Really well written and I agree with you. For me, a lot of the time it’s about content over quality. I love photography because it teaches me a lot about the places I photograph. I always see the beauty in simple things and see a potential shot before I’ve taken it. It’s a wonderful hobby to have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Saxon

      Oh yeah – seeing the photo before it’s taken. I’m there with you. Sometimes it’s actually waaayy before. Ie without my camera there and have to come back haha. I also agree about learning through photography. Thanks for your comment Sophie.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stephen L. Tyler

    There are a few people who are photographers and many many people who take pictures. Whether you like to shot in M mode or Auto is entirely up to you and odes not lessen your ability to tell a story, which is what the photographer/picture taker usually is trying to accomplish. As long as you enjoy capturing the moment of your surroundings it is the only thing you need to be concerned with (unless you are a commercial photographer, then you’re in a different league altogether). I enjoy your shots and the stories that accompany them. As long as it is fun for you and not work, I wouldn’t be concerned too much with all the technical aspects of your camera as long as you’re not out to buy the biggest and baddest camera on the market, which would just be a dumbass thing to do 😉 ! Keep shooting my friend, so we can enjoy the journey of your stories…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haylee

    Totally agree with your post – I’m pretty scared of using full M mode too! Your ideas on creating a story / art rather than something technically sound I could definitely relate to. I mentioned similar things in one of my first posts http://wp.me/p6j1i2-U (Don’t worry if you don’t have time to check it out!).
    At the end of the day, I like what I like – if others do it too, then that’s fantastic. But art, in any form, is a matter of opinion. I think anyone can be technically correct if trained, but not everyone is artistic.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Travis Longmore

    I think you’re a storyteller more than you are a ‘hero shot’ photographer. And I think that’s a phenomenal thing. I’ve spent a career trying to take ‘that shot’ and it’s exhilarating but it took me a long time to realise I needed to add back in all those smaller moments and focus on the stuff that makes up a story, not just the money shot.

    I also love the meaning behind the Close quote. I’ve had many sleepless nights wondering if pursuing a photography career was going to be as fulfilling as I’d hoped. I realised after a few years of doing it professionally that I lost something from the process. I realised that I was after something larger. Something more meaningful. I’ve spent a long time trying to figure what that larger thing is and I’ve finally started to place that all together now. It’s a fascinating process.

    I love this post mate! Very intriguing to read about this sort of thought process.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Saxon

      Look out. It’s going to get a little creepy and a bit like a ‘love-in’. But I greatly appreciate your comments because, quite frankly, your work is amazing.

      Don’t get me wrong. I would love to ‘be able’ to nail those money shots but I think I am happiest playing in photographic midfield and threading the ball through to ‘strikers’ like yourself. I have had a couple of lessons on the theory of M Mode but once it all starts sounding a little like maths I get this voice in my head that goes ‘WTF?’ whilst my head nods and mouth says things like “A ha” and “oh I see”.

      Once again mate thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Like

  5. Steff (18-200 mm View)

    I really like you analogy. I believe that art is truly in the eye of the beholder. I just started fiddling with the manual mode again, hence the fluke moon shot. 90% of the photos on my blog were shot in automatic. I shoot “for the crop” a lot these days which seems to mesh with the artsy side. Nonetheless like your philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Saxon

      Hi Steff. Yes I haven’t seen a book yet called – ‘The Rules of Art’ 😉 What I probably most like about photography is the ability to personalise a scene that may have been photographed hundreds of times. It’s totally possible that there may be hundreds of different representations of the same subject. Keeps life interesting I reckon. Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂

      Like

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