New Beginnings

YOU must have something to say.” It’s hard to argue with David Alan Harvey, writing in Advice from Magnum Photographers, a free guide recently released to celebrate 70 years of Magnum Photos. Years ago, when I first started working as a features writer, one of the best pieces of advice I was given was to look at every piece of writing and think, “so what?” Why should someone, looking at this, care, especially if I can’t think of a reason to myself? At first glance it’s even a little disheartening; what if I don’t have anything to say at all? But I think that’s missing the point somewhat. It’s not about making every image a powerful, life-changing moment (though, wouldn’t that be nice?), but at least thinking about the moment itself before releasing the shutter. Photography, Harvey continues, is “now clearly a language. As with any language, knowing how to spell and write a grammatically correct sentence is, of course, necessary. But, more importantly, today’s emerging photographers now must be visual wordsmiths with either a clear didactic or an esoteric imperative. Be a poet, not a technical writer.” Sitting here, trying to write a first blog post, it’s not always easy to know what it is you want to say, let alone know whether it’s worth saying or whether people will want to listen. I’ve spent years as a features writer, I’ve got a literature background and have dabbled in poetry. Yet, each time I start to write there’s that niggle of self-doubt, a doubt that is in no way diminished in photography, especially as a relative newcomer. And that is why I want to start with my own piece of advice, particularly for those thinking of starting out in film photography and developing themselves, and a piece of advice that I luckily stumbled upon but wish someone had told me. And that’s start with medium format photography, such as with a twin lens reflex (TLR). Aside from looking stunningly beautiful, with twin pieces of glass twinkling unblinkingly at you, delineating the behaviour of light in their reflections, they are surprisingly easy to use. 120 film is big and alien, but gives you (generally) just 12 shots and a decent size film to handle in the dark (I think more on this later). Twelve shots. Most now would think nothing of firing off 100 digital shots and hoping one will work. But now you have just 12 goes to get it right - and every shot actually costs! But, that’s the beauty. You have to step back, think, compose, create. The TLRs I own have beautiful, large viewfinders that I actually find making composition a whole lot more natural than through a traditional viewfinder. That’s where the language of photography, in my opinion, really begins to sing. And what depth, what tone, what texture in that voice! Because at any moment you could lose it all - from incorrectly exposing the image, to transferring the film and developing it. But when you see a beautiful, clean, sharp negative hanging, the film says so much more that any words you could ever have hoped to articulate about your photography. I’m the first to admit I have a long way to go. And there are a couple of exciting projects that look like they could take off (so, stay tuned!). So, here’s to hoping that as the blog grows I continue to have something to say, or, at the very least, my photos will be able to speak for themselves.

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