On the influence of other photographers part 1.

We are all influenced by our surroundings. The choices we make and the paths we follow almost always have a precedent in our memories, otherwise the very idea of taking an image with a camera would probably not occur to us. 

On a superficial level, deciding who your "hero's" are (hate that over used and often in appropriate term), can help you decode the why of your own technique. It is never helpful to simply copy others, but it is nearly impossible to be inspired by someone else's work and then completely remove those memories from your mental library when working your self.

I am going to, as a mental exercise for myself, look at those image makers that I like and try to de-cypher their influence on me. 

Sam Abel

The work of less well known, quietly spoken National Geographic photographer and editor Sam Abel came at a formative time for me. He arrived fully in book form, mentioned I think in a magazine article (popular photography some time in the '80's?), way back before the internet anyway. The article talked about his method of composing from "back to front", making sure that all of the elements of an image work toward the whole (see my book review also). At the time, the term bokeh was not (invented) in our photographic consciousness, but the back-front thing started me looking at the frame as a whole, reaching it's logical fulfilment when I became bokeh aware (or, maybe like most image makers, I was already, I just didn't know what I was responding to).

Maybe a bit Abelish? No real attention to the back ground except to make sure it was in focus enough to contribute and an awareness that depth of field was compositionally required or desired.  Definitely not as deliberate, but the "filmy" colour and location remind me of his work a bit.

Maybe a bit Abelish? No real attention to the back ground except to make sure it was in focus enough to contribute and an awareness that depth of field was compositionally required or desired.  Definitely not as deliberate, but the "filmy" colour and location remind me of his work a bit.

Lots of depth, but no real strength in subject. Not really Abel?

Lots of depth, but no real strength in subject. Not really Abel?

His quote "I believe in the staying power of the quieter image" became a sort of mantra and a confirmation of my own philosophy, that quiet observation and minimum intrusion is the path I am most comfortable with and that it gets the images I like the most.

What have I learned from him; His use of light and depth to make simple looking, but deeply complicated compositions definitely influenced how I see and how I think between shoots, but I cannot confess being a master of his technique. I am aware, more than ever after writing this, that I need to re visit his philosophy as my own style has drifted towards the shallow depth of field portrait style to my own detriment. Backgrounds are key and often forgotten.

Michael Kenna

Michael Kenna came to me later in my early years, towards the end of the film era and after the influence of the classic American greats (Adams etc) and the National Geo "big book" photographers (Art Wolfe and Jim Brandenburg). What he shows us is that anything can be photogenic, even the ugly and mundane. A bit of stone path, the stacks from a power station, a swing set, a lone tree in the snow or a wooden fence, taken sometimes after dark or in strong mist with long exposure technique, using what ever grain and character is provided by film. He only works in black and white 35mm or medium format film with mechanical cameras, but can make a work of art out of nothing really. Ugly and boring are no excuse, look harder with an open mind.

His style has been copied a lot in the film and digital eras, especially in the last few years due to advances in digital cameras, so his work can look to some like just another in a crowd of many, but consider this; I bought his 20 year retrospective book over 20 years ago. When he emerged, there was nothing like his work except much older images taken with view cameras on glacially slow film stock through necessity. The most notable of his contemporaries is Michael Levitt, who uses a similar style shot on large format film. 

Not in the same league and technically flawed (see my previous post about sharpness), but taken with lessons learned from his work.

Not in the same league and technically flawed (see my previous post about sharpness), but taken with lessons learned from his work.

What I take from his work is; simplicity (emphasis on minimalism in composition and tones), clarity of vision, not accepting technical limitations, but embarrassing them and then doing the work required to hone these can make a great image out of almost anything. he stresses the value of post production in the darkroom, so in a way he is the natural grandfather to the photoshop era. Many (not all) of the colour photographers of his day shot slide film stock and very few processed their work, leaving it to lab technicians and printers, but the black and white masters were the ones who followed the process all the way through, like we do today.

Probably a bit more along the lines of creative manipulation. Taken as a bright and sunny day image.

Probably a bit more along the lines of creative manipulation. Taken as a bright and sunny day image.

So endeth part 1.