Development & Inspiration...(conscious or not)

I recently read a question put forward on Twitter by UK photographer Greg Whitton, he asked: "How important has Twitter been in your development as a photographer?"...the responses were varied with some stating it was a good source of inspiration, a good place to network and be exposed to others work, whilst some questioned how Twitter or social media could play any part in development or that it was perhaps too much of a 'thumbs up' atmosphere with not enough critical analysis.

I can see all points and for each photographer they are valid in their own right, for me the key word was development. It's at this point I'd like to play the 'music card', some of you know that's my other life outside of photography and I can't help drawing a parallel here that I believe is relevant. For many, Jazz as we know it is a melting pot of historical developments that were honed in the jazz clubs of the USA in the 1920's, 30's, 40's and beyond. Throughout this time period players grew the genre through exploration of new boundaries, however when deconstructed these were firmly based on, and influenced by, their peer groups, mentors and musical heroes of the day. Their 'Twitter' was much more hands-on and was hours and hours playing together in smoky nightclubs for little or no money; bouncing off each other, learning from each other, soaking in other peoples sounds, ideas and motifs and re-imagining them with their own twist. Sometimes consciously and no doubt sub-consciously as well, in the same way a baby learns to speak or learns the tone of language, you cannot help but take on influences from your surroundings (personal and online), it's human nature.

Take the great footballers of Pele, Messi, Maradona etc...none of them learned to play and develop in silo, it was through interaction with other players, their peers or heroes. Watching someone turn this way or that, using a trick and finding a different way to integrate that into their football vocabulary. Is Twitter perhaps a modern day breeding ground of inspiration? Or better still should it be regarded as a gateway to creative exposure? Perhaps, albeit littered with it's own foibles in the same way any public group dynamic will create.

I've made the comparison before that in music there are only a finite series of notes (12), in theory this sets a limit on the possibilities, but think about what a wide variety of music there has been through the ages, from Jazz to Death Metal and everything in between...all based on those 12 notes. However it's certain to say that to the educated ear patterns and inspirations can be seen across genres, this is not bad, but purely natural.

So what happens in music or photography when someone uses a very similar 'phrase' or structure of 'notes', or plays different ones in a very similar way to another? I feel like I bumped into this sub-consciously and then very consciously just a few days ago...

The above image was taken locally (Bucks) and I'm going to come straight out and say this is a definite case of Twitter influence. It was through Twitter that I first came across the work of Finn Hopson, who is well known for a wide range of work and for many he's best known for his 'South Downs Collection' and within that his 'Fieldwork' series. I've subsequently seen Finns work in Outdoor Photography magazine and no doubt other literature, he has a very impressive and enjoyable portfolio of work that I would recommend you check out.

Part of me was nervous to even make a connection or indeed write this blog, because it's important to state that in no way did I set out to re-create or copy Finns work, nor do I feel it is of a similar stature. Not only would it be futile to imitate the work of anyone else, as a copy is always a poor 2nd place (think of seeing a cover band vs the original!), but in fact one aspect of photography that strikes fear into me above all is feeling like my images could ever look directly similar to others. In fact this often makes me shy away from commonly known locations.

For instance just 1/4 mile away from this location there were probably 15-20 photographers in a 200 sq.metre area looking for bluebell shots. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with that (and I've seen some lovely shots by the way) I personally would rather be somewhere alone, as photography is very much an escape and desire to be at peace and preferably be in solitude in the great outdoors (this may not be an original concept but it's very true for many of us). But what is interesting is that given similar ingredients: low light, undulating agricultural land, presumably a similar time of year to some of his shots (due to the crop progression status), grass colouration etc and with some sub-conscious influence in my brain it is inevitable that a comparison might be drawn by some, our 'tune' may sound similar yet be different in many ways.

Even saying there may be a comparison could be seen as being rather lofty of me, but my point is simply that through seeing Finns work it must have had some effect on how I 'saw' this scene and why I even put myself in this position. My belief is that this happens more often than we know when composing or creating images, it's impossible to know how picture X,Y,Z has affected your response to a scene 3-6 months later. 


Off the back of this morning, where I made 2-3 images I enjoyed, I've decided to try and put together a small body of work about this area. Doing these small projects is not a new idea but again I've seen various specific project-based bodies of work from other photographers on Twitter (and of course other places) that I have enjoyed.

This project will push me to think about how best to represent the area, be it wider shots, more intimate, more editorial perhaps in manner to show it is both an attraction to locals as a beautiful place for a walk but also it is a working agricultural landscape as well.

Surely these next steps, grown from a small sub-conscious seed influenced by some work I was exposed to, will help my development as a photographer in some way...

On a final note (ahem-another musical pun!), I think development is a word too often associated with those that may be deemed to need improvement. However, I've been lucky enough to meet and speak with many top musicians around the world (I mean the real ones who play instruments, not the wannabees on X-Factor) and commonly they all believe they are still developing and it's not unknown for top players in world renowned orchestras to still have the odd 'lesson' with their peers to help develop some new way of playing, interpreting the music or similar. Perhaps for musicians their gateway to this creative inspiration is listening to music, new or old, so perhaps YouTube, Digital Radio, iTunes etc. Whereas our visual based area of interest does lend itself to Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Photography Magazines & Books and so on.

In summary (well done if you've made it this far) in my opinion it's paramount to allow influences to seep into our minds and not be afraid to acknowledge it. I see elements from various photographers in the three images here, but at the end of the day they are my own interpretations of the land I saw in front of me. However, I'm not worried about admitting that my final 'tune' will inevitably use similar 'notes' to others, as long as it's true to my goals and convictions then at least I'm happy to play it.