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The Far Country

Updated: Jan 24

Daisy Lakelin attended our photo course last year. The brief was to produce a compelling photo story. Her photo essay of life on a farm won a round of applause from her fellow photographers. We loved her images.

Here is a small selection from what we all felt was an incredibly accomplished piece of work for such a young talent -

Daisy has just hit 20 and, after scrimping and saving for the last year, she is heading off on a personal journey - a kind of self-imposed assignment; to photograph the modern face of New Zealand.

Daisy will be following in the footsteps of those many photographers before her who had the drive to get up, get out, and go looking for stories. And some made their names doing it. I know what a big fan Daisy is of that intrepid photojournalist, Mary Ellen Mark.

Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen, great teacher and traveller that she was, would be the first to say to Daisy- 'Be Bold and be Brave!'

For our part, we are going to be supporting Daisy by acting as both her technical support and as her picture editors back here in the UK. What follows is an open letter to you, Daisy - and to all those who are just starting out on a career in photography -

Great photography is a journey of the mind and body. It is both an intellectual odyssey and a practical mission. Your photography must be driven by both excellent technique and artistic rigour. See all you can. Read all you can. Try all you can. Because -

Becoming a photographer requires constructive action

Your aim must be to develop an 'instinct' for recognising a great photographic opportunity - and the ability to capture that fleeting moment without hesitation. More images are lost because of a moment's delay before releasing the shutter than any other photographic mishap.

Being a photographer demands an instinctive reaction

There is a reason why photographers are described as people who 'shoot' images because just like an expert shot, the principal action of the photographer can be encapsulated with the vital and explicit direction -

Don't think: just act

We have all missed pictures by thinking too long and acting too slowly... Take too long to shoot and you will miss the opportunity entirely. Your camera must capture the scene rather than you being mesmerised by it.

Daisy, you learnt very quickly with your farm photo essay that animals won't take direction; either you capture the moment without hesitation or you miss it. It's the same with people. It's the same with the fleeting shadows of a landscape. It's the same with any situation, anywhere and at any time.

Your mission as a photographer is to get yourself in the right place at the right time and then, as the scene unfolds...

Don't think; trust your instincts and act immediately

Don't waste precious seconds thinking - 'that's a good picture'... Just take it; before the moment is lost forever! 

The key is to continually hone - through research and study - both your photographic instinct and your practical skill; because the fine balance of both will gift you with the true ability to capture the decisive moment.

And then there is the question of 'covering' the action. An amateur will 'snap' a frame or two of a scene. A professional - or anybody who is serious about their photography - will make a conscious effort to shoot a scene from as many angles as possible; continually looking for both the most expressive and most meaningful angle. Life is in constant motion; no scene stands still, you owe it to yourself to keep looking, keep thinking and, crucially, keep shooting!

Cover the scene. Capture the story as it develops. And don't leave until you are sure the story is over.

And we are glad that you are shooting on film and cannot see what you have shot until the film is processed. The screen on the back of a digital camera is the silent killer of photographic creativity. Maybe that sounds dramatic but it's true... When shooting digitally there is the constant temptation to review images even as things are still developing in front of the camera - which means that you will miss as many pictures as you gain. Instead of being entirely focused on events, you will already be confusing your thinking by wasting time trying to evaluate the frames already taken.

Anybody that has shot on film will know that the joy of it is in the discovery of what the camera actually captured versus the photographer's idea of what was recorded. Processing a roll of film and then holding it up to the light is always a moment of revelation and also one of inspiration. We learn so much more from shooting first and only reviewing after. The rule is the same for writing, or painting or, well, pretty much any of the arts. A complete pass at an idea must be carried out before any meaningful review can be had.

Keep your mind focused on the world in front of your lens. Let your camera hold its secrets until the day is done.

Trying to review your images whilst you are still shooting is a sure-fire recipe for second rate work. If you are shooting digitally, turn off your screen or cover it.

Don't look at your photographs too soon after taking them. Let your idea of what you shot - or what you think you shot - develop in your mind first.

Give your mind a chance to work freely, unencumbered by the self doubt that constantly threatens even the greatest artist.

If you give yourself that crucial time to think and time to reflect - in what will often feel like a purely abstract way about what you have photographed, you will become a far better photographer because you will learn as much from your mistakes as you do from your successes. Sometimes your images will disappoint but more often than not they will surprise and inspire you. In your mind's eye, an image that you thought was a failure may, upon review turn out to be a surprise success. And you will learn from that.

Be confident, Be adventurous. Don't be distracted from chasing the story by attempting to edit it when it is still happening in front of you.

But what does a photographer photograph? What does a writer choose to write about? What does a painter choose to paint? The answer, of course, is that you must chase what interests you. And be confident about doing so. If you make a conscious effort to simply be a 'crowd pleaser' - perhaps by trying to imitate the work of other photographers or by trying to produce images that you think others would want to see or would approve of, you will be wasting your time and with it, whatever talent you may have.

Believe in yourself. Trust your ability. Know that you will never stop learning. And be glad of that

Before you become accountable to anybody else, you must be accountable to yourself. The world can wait. Your inner journey is the first and vital one to make. You will be your own fiercest critic but out of bravely facing self doubt comes self belief - and with that, a growing conviction and a true sense of purpose about the direction you want to head in.

Whatever your dream is, begin it. Be bold. Be brave.

For you, Daisy, the far country of New Zealand now lies before you. Photograph what excites you because if you work with artistic integrity your true vision of the world will be born and, I have no doubt, enjoyed (if not celebrated!) by others...

And you will be compelled forward, never wanting to stop; never hesitating before pressing the shutter release.

The world is yours for the taking, Daisy. We wish you the best of luck.

Words copyright Matthew Whiteman 2024

Images copyright Matthew Whiteman / Daisy Lakelin / the estate of Mary Ellen Mark

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2 टिप्पणियां

Looking forward to see the photos. If this article does not motive you Daisy, I am not sure what will :) of course, New Zealand. Enjoy it!


05 जन॰

Great photos Daisy, every best wishes for your adventures in New Zealand and I hope you'll share some of your photos on this blog and terrific advice and support to her from everyone at Latent Image

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