This is a post I’ve been thinking about for a long time, trying to figure out which photographers influence my work and what I’m trying to do.
Then, via a conversation with Anton, I realised that when I began photographing with intention, I didn’t really know any classic photographers at all. My influences came from other places, via other passions.
Here then, in no particular order, are who I consider to be the top five influences on how I try to photograph today –
In three words – Sensual, Emotional, Eccentric.
I was vaguely aware of Kate as a child – her videos for early classics like Wuthering Heights are amongst my earliest memories of music shows like Top Of The Pops. But it was much later I discovered her properly, via a random tape my brother found with a few of her early hits.
What I love about Kate is the emotion that goes into her music and lyrics, and how often this is entwined with very sensual imagery and language too. It makes me think and feel and yearn.
Her voice just makes the presentation even more sensual and more often than not – especially with her first three records – eccentric, if not completely bonkers.
One of my favourite songs is Suspended In Gaffa. It sweeps and swoons like a drunken fairground ride into the chorus of “suddenly my feet are feet of mud / it all goes slo-mo / I don’t why I’m crying…” At the end I feel exhilarated, exhausted and like I understand everything and nothing all at once.
In contrast, something like the stripped down and incredibly beautiful Under The Ivy has an exquisite balance of lost innocence, mystery, fragility and sensuality, and all with just vocals and piano. Possibly the most tender and touching song about discovering carnal pleasures every written?
How does Kate Bush influence my photography?
I think she reminds me how something very simple can be incredibly beautiful, like Under The Ivy, or arguably her finest hour, The Coral Room. It doesn’t need to be complex and cluttered.
She’s also very English, and obviously steeped in English Literature, and somehow I hope my photographs of the English countryside and ancient churches mine a similar vein too.
Oh and Kate also seems often still half lost in childhood (or rather caught somewhere between childhood and adulthood) and immersed somewhere between memories, dreams and reality, something I also feel much of the time. I think I retain the curiosity of a child, seeing beauty and wonder in things that most dismiss as mundane and would give a second glance. Then making photographs of them.
In three words – Vast, Bold, Colour.
Through an old friend who I used to share a great deal of music with, I was introduced to The Stone Roses. Well, not the band themselves, just their music. Anyway, their lead guitarist John Squire had something of a passion for abstract painter Jackson Pollock. Intrigued by his work, I explored similar artists and came across Mark Rothko.
I was struck by not only the bold and vivid colours he used, but the sheer size of his paintings – many at least 2m high. Seeing a few in the flesh enamoured my further, and helped me appreciate the layers and textures he used that aren’t apparent seeing them just online or as a print.
How has Mark Rothko influenced my photography?
This influence is far more obvious. Any time I take a picture with large bands of colour (or greys!), it leads back to Rothko. Even if it’s not solid colours, and more haze or loosely contained bands of different colours or textures, I think his work burned deeply into my subconscious and informs much of what I do.
Stars Of The Lid
In three words – Space, Serenity, Warmth.
This influence could have been any number of at least half a dozen bands in the same genre, including Labradford, Loscil, Hammock and Eluvium.
Add up all the time I’ve spent lost in their music and it would probably equate to months, those two records above being quite probably the two most played of any I’ve ever owned.
How have Stars Of The Lid influenced my photography?
Again by showing less is more, by slowing everything down and letting it breathe and find its elegance.
They’re the antidote to so much in our busy daily lives, especially the frenetic internet and social media.
Stars Of The Lid constantly remind me to breathe and let things unfold in their own time, which has certainly led to me being more patient and thoughtful with photography, rather than just rattling through a roll of film to get to the next one, or “spraying and praying” with digital.
In three words – Poetic, Honest, Urgent.
Im not sure how I discovered Kerouac, though the memory that rings most true is that I was simply browsing through the fiction section in a bookstore one day some 20 years ago and saw his face looking out at me from the cover of On The Road.
I read a page or two and was hooked by his beautiful burning urgent words that rattled along fearlessly, at once both fierce and tender.
In the following year or so I read virtually all of his other novels and his wonderful collected letters, and he was then, and probably remains now, my greatest literary hero.
Kerouac taught me how to unleash my own inner poet and I wrote even more than I read over this period, at first long rambling broken rhyming letters, then gradually more edited and structured poems.
Jack also introduced me to haiku, and maybe a couple of thousand haiku of my own later, it was the only poetry I wrote.
How has Jack Kerouac influenced my photography?
Haiku and photography – then and still now – are so close in my mind as to be virtually inseparable. The aim of each is to capture the senses and emotion of a single scene, a fleeting moment in time, so that the artist – and their audience – can appreciate and re-experience that moment in its full glory many times over.
Taking pictures was just a different way of creating haiku, and when I started with camera phones around 12 years ago, this was what I was trying to do. And still am to this day!
In three words – Sparse, Spacious, Influential.
Though I’d come across Eno as part of the original Roxy Music line up, he interested me more as the collaborator on David Bowie’s Berlin albums, especially Low.
This led me to explore his own work, starting with Ambient 1 – Music For Airports. The record was a revelation, I’d never heard anything so stripped down, so sparse, yet so beautiful.
Ambient 1 and its sequel, Ambient 2 – The Plateaux Of Mirror, remain for me probably the definitive ambient records, and the blueprint for all of those bands mentioned above, led by Stars Of The Lid.
Yes, they all have their own spin and sound, but their DNA can all be traced back to Eno’s work decades earlier.
How has Brian Eno influenced my photography?
In a word, minimalism. I remember lending Ambient 2 to a friend who was also a composer and music producer. He reported back – “It’s fantastic – if you happen to like the two notes he uses on the entire record…” This was a slight exaggeration, but not much.
But this was, and is, precisely the point of the music. The less you focus on, the more attention and energy you give those few precious things, and so the more you enjoy and appreciate them.
Minimalism has been a significant influence in my life in the last decade or so, from my wardrobe, to the music I listen to, finally, my cameras.
My photographs themselves, more often than not, feature very few elements, and often the main object is in focus and much of the rest of the frame is blurred. Again, this is to focus (literally) on one or two things and let them resonate to their fullest, uncluttered and unhindered by chaotic surroundings.
Repeated attempts on my part to create visual equivalent of Eno’s sonic masterworks.
Influences current and future
As I hope you’ve seen, our photographic influences can come from a range of sources, and certainly don’t have to come exclusively via other photographers. Mine barely do at all.
Very recently I’ve begun reading more and studying the past masters and inevitably this will have a subtle influence as my photography continues to evolve. But I strongly suspect none of them will have the kind of impact any and all of the above artists have had in my formative years.
Who are the biggest influences on your photography, and why?
Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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