Just as we don’t photograph for ourselves alone, we also shouldn’t learn from ourselves alone. There are countless photographers who’ve preceded us, to say nothing of our contemporaries (who, at last count, are legion). And even though there are times that, as I mentioned this time last week, it feels as though someone else has beaten us to darned near everything, that’s actually something we should be glad for.
For starters, it can be very intimidating to blaze your own trail. It’s always helpful when someone’s been there first; their work acts as a roadmap or a compass into what’s essentially uncharted territory when you’re first starting out. Be grateful that someone else’s work, and experience, is there to light your way, whether that person’s name has gone down in history, or isn’t known outside your camera club.
Others’ work can also be a good indicator to you of what you would, or would not, like to do or become as a photographer. If you’ve read much of what I’ve posted here, you’ve already got a pretty good idea of the photographers who inspire me… names like Cartier Bresson, Lange, Doisneau, du Chemin, and Orwig, for instance. Their photography, along with countless others’ photos, have given me a sense of what’s possible. Your list will probably be much different than mine. That’s okay. But I’d definitely suggest that you make one. Pay equal attention to photographers whose stuff you don’t like, and don’t appreciate them any less; they, too, have quite a lot to teach you if you let them.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you will come across photographers whose work and style you appreciate even if it’s 180 degrees from what you do, or would like to. Be especially thankful for those photographers. I’m reminded of this almost every day when I look at the work of someone like Annie Liebowitz, whose photos show the touch of someone who’s just as much an auteur as a photographer. The same thing happens with, say, a really good wedding photographer. That takes a kind of talent that I haven’t got, and what’s more, a talent that I’m not all that interested in cultivating (the thought of photographing someone else’s once-in-a-lifetime event scares the shit out of me, to be completely honest). But I appreciate that talent, I appreciate the time and effort that someone’s put into their craft to arrive at the point that they can make those kinds of photos, and I especially appreciate that they’re generous enough to share them with the rest of us. I’m half tempted to call or email them and thank them for doing that kind of photography so that I don’t have to!
That’s just my take. What about you? What can you find, or have you found, to appreciate in other photographers’ photography?