BitDepth 750 - September 28

The closing, and quite philosophical I think, installment of my series on digital photography.
This photographer’s way

Decades ago, burning with a desire to be a social activist Ansel Adams, I did this photograph of the south side of the Beetham, the trees and vegetation scoured by chemical pollution. The infatuation passed, but the photo remains to remind me to work at what I do best. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

“Photographers are people too,” my good friend Lenny noted, alluding to recent columns that weren’t his cup of tea.
The first few columns in this series were intended to let the craft of photography have its day in this space and that day has turned into weeks.
It’s time then for a closing, a summation, a coda of sorts, some sweeping opinions rather than hard nosed technique.

Are you a photographer?
There’s certainly no timidity among today’s young camera wielders to claim the title and I find that curious. For decades, I’d don the title like a monk’s habit, wearing it in situations that were lubricated by that clarification.
It’s a lot easier to get work taking pictures if you identify yourself properly, but I never really felt ready for it. Photography was one of the things I did. Then one day, hundreds of thousands of images later, I found that I was, in fact, a photographer. I hadn’t set out to be one, but darn it, there it was, a body of work and a general consensus that I was a photographer. Better to go with the flow, now, I think.
Becoming a photographer then, isn’t something you decide, no matter how loudly and fervently you say it. It’s something you are, “balls to bone” as the Oracle put it in the Matrix. So work at becoming a photographer before you rush to becoming a professional.

To thine own eye be true.
Very few photographers start out where they are going to end up. I laugh now to think of the first photograph I ever shot that got published. It was a picture of Noble Douglas and Carol La Chapelle, shot backstage at the Little Carib Theatre with, I kid you not, a Kodak Instamatic camera which required a rotating, disposable flash cube.
Those photographs are long lost, but I remember how much the photographic department at the Express bitched about having to process and print the amateur’s 126mm film and the gentle advice of veteran photographer Zobin Alexander, who pointed out his own flash, a bizarre rig with its own flash bulb and a fanlike reflector. 

Zobin, as I recall, was gently urging me to upgrade my rig to something more like his. Of course, this wasn’t that long ago, and all the other photographers had sealed tube flash units. What they didn’t have was any patience or willingness to share.
I recall all this because that photo, albeit removed by decades of experience, is pretty much what I’m doing today. Posed photographs of interesting people in their working spaces, environmental portraits, as they are known today, and it’s only taken me three and a half decades to figure out what I was drawn to right from the start.
Wrong turns, embarrassing errors and steps taken in shoes that just don’t fit are part of the journey, just keep walking and keep your efforts honest.

Go where the ground is clear.
The most fulfilling experiences that I’ve had as a photographer in Trinidad and Tobago have all come when I got involved in projects that were of little interest to other shooters. 
When I began honing my skills photographing the local theatre, there were only two other photographers working the scene, Derek Gay and the late Jerry Llewellyn. For ten years, I had the opportunity to not just capture remarkable performances, I also learned my craft as a portrait photographer on some of the most iconographic faces of our time

My embrace of photojournalism just as my commercial career was taking off in 1990 was an almost unheard of step. Most photographers were trying to get out of their newspaper’s photographic departments, not return to them.
Over the next 20 years, I had an opportunity to rebuild two photographic departments to embrace the coming of digital technology at the Guardian and Express and to create the first all-digital photography department at the Wire. Nobody else was doing anything like this and I had a remarkable learning experience.

Support the worthy.
It’s probably easier to just give worthy causes money, but there’s nothing like immersing yourself in a project that speaks to you personally.
That’s what drew me to cover the theatre for ten years, to photograph Carnival every year for the last 27, to be Gayelle the Channel’s official photographer and to take on the unpaid post of Chief Photographer of Outlish magazine.

Both the Gayelle and Outlish projects are entirely in alignment with the kind of work I do today, but they are also deeply satisfying projects that keep me alert and interested in portraiture beyond the executive suite.
The Outlish project is also a deep gamble on the future of journalism, but that’s the just dice rolling off into the dark beyond, right now it’s an intriguing introduction to a world of young professionals I would normally never meet.
In shooting pro bono, though, I have one rule of thumb. If I shoot for free, I do what I want. When you want me to do what you want, I send a quote.

Do what you do best.
I learned this lesson from Michael Williams when I photographed his daughter’s wedding more than two decades ago. He wasn’t happy with the photos and pointed out that they were not what he expected from me based on my other work.
He was absolutely right. I shot weddings for the money and didn’t enjoy the work at all. It was the last wedding ceremony I would ever shoot and the best indirect advice I ever got. I wasn’t good at it, I didn’t enjoy the work and I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. Since then I’ve held that up as a yardstick against which I measure all the projects I consider.
I’d probably make a lot more money doing work I don’t like doing, but I would have zero satisfaction. Besides, if I wanted to make money doing something I didn’t like, there are lots of other options besides photography.

Be aware of your environment.
I’ve always tried to be aware of who the photographers working in Trinidad and Tobago are and to understand what they are trying to achieve. That’s become quite easy in an era of Facebook, Flickr and photoblogs.
From the enthusiastic peer coaching at Nexus studios and the flinty black and white imagery of Mark Gellineau to the ethereal beauty of Laura Ferreira’s dreamy image constructs, I learn more about this island, about my countrymen and about photography than ever before.
I’ve made a quite conscious decision to be more awed by the successes and brilliance of a new generation of photographers, empowered by the Internet as a medium of sharing and learning over choosing to be depressed by the repetitive avalanche of locally generated dross that floods the web.
These are exciting times for photography, and the best local photography is only getting better.

BitDepth 749 - The Copyright Condom
BitDepth 748 -
Professionals versus Amateurs
BitDepth 747 -
The digital photographer's workflow
BitDepth 746 -
An ode to good glass
BitDepth 745 -
Your new digital camera
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