Inspiring The Future Photographer – It’s Up To Us

In my 13th year, on a warm day in spring, I remember an English class that in hindsight was possibly the most influential English class I ever had. 

Our teacher, Mr Evans, was a tall Welshman with dark flowing locks, a handlebar moustache. He seemed to own just one navy suit, shiny from years of ironing, and accessorised this with a belt that looked older than him, always worn with the buckle round on one side, rather than at the front. He spoke with a glorious deep rich baritone, straight from the valleys.

Listening to him read out loud was a joy, not just because of that voice, but also because he would imbue different characters with different accents as he relayed the stories.

This brought them alive so much more than using the same voice throughout.

I can still hear his voice in my head now, the way he pronounced Summer Of My German Soldier as soul-dee-yer, as opposed to the more common sol-jer of our local dialect.

On this particular day we were asked to read poems we’d been set as an exercise, and mine was singled out as one worth hearing. 

It was called The Hunter, and centred on the dual role of a lioness, being both a hunter of her own prey, then herself becoming hunted by mankind.

I remember standing up to read, a mixture of nervousness and pride, and at the end, Mr Evans pausing for a couple of moments before exclaiming “Magnificent! Please, read it one more time…”

So I did, this time the nervousness slightly abated, and the pride notched up further, but now intermingled with the inevitable sense of embarrassment most shy 13 year olds feel at being publicly praised by a teacher.

I recall previously being told at primary school I had a great imagination and was adept at writing stories, but this experience with Mr Evans was the first I’d realised perhaps I could write a poem too, and even that I wanted to.

If I said this day sparked a poetry writing spree instantly, and I went on to write 17 poems a week for the next decade, I’d be lying. 

But when I did come back to poetry some years layer – in my early 20s – this seed had been steadily growing.

Mr Evans, with handful of kind words in just a few moments, had shown me a glimpse of what was possible. 

In the meantime my enjoyment of music – for the tunes, but primarily for the lyrics – had been flourishing too, and I’d realised that my musical heroes like Morrissey and Michael Stipe were poets too, and unlike most popular music, their lyric sheets could stand alone as poetry, not simple dumb rhymes to accompany a pretty melody.

I might have gone on to discover more classically recognised poets such as Dylan Thomas and Walt Whitman, but I learned most from Morrissey and Stipe.

The former spun intelligent lyrics with a wide vocabulary, clever rhymes with unusual but always flowing structures and the latter’s featured obscure imagery, fragmented stories, and earthy, colourful, vivid and unusual lines.

Both informed my own writing hugely.

So how does all this relate to photography, and in particular inspiring the future photographer?

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Well, any of us who photograph are in a position where we can share our passion with someone who perhaps has not yet been exposed to it.

And I don’t mean just our (or other people’s) offspring.

I was the far side of 30 before I used a camera with the intention of capturing something beautiful, and in school I don’t remember anything remotely photography related being made available to any of us.

As photographers, we have far more to share than just our images.

When we talk with others about why we photograph, what it brings us, what it allows us to be and do that perhaps nothing else in our lives ever has, perhaps we might ignite a tiny spark of something similar in them.

Maybe we could go as far to say we have a responsibility to share our love of photography.

Not to discover the next award winning international photographer, but simply to show people they can explore something they love to do, even if it’s not mainstream, or widely accessible.

For my part, aside from 35hunter (which I hope encourages you to photograph more, and share the images and the experiences), I try to encourage our two oldest children to photograph. 

Our daughter (11) has her own little Canon IXUS, which as I found out in January, are capable of fabulous results in a compact and easy to use form.

I’ve tried to instil the basics that means she’ll avoid being frustrated with her pictures (the biggest tip I think you can give any beginner is to hold the camera as still as possible – most people seem to think cameras will magically stabilise any image into perfect sharpness even if you’re waving it all over the place!).

Our middle child (nearly seven) has his older sister’s VTech Kiddicam to play around with, and often asks if he can use whichever camera I’m taking family pics with (most recently a Pentax DSLR that’s old and cheap enough for me to not care if he drops it!).

As they grow, and as our youngest, third, child becomes old enough to take an interest and hold a camera, I hope to continue to encourage photography.

Beyond this, as parents, my wife and I try to spur on and support any keen creative interests – currently piano, bass guitar, ballroom dancing and horse riding in our daughter, and trampolining and ballroom dancing in our older son, with a very recent interest in parkour which we’re starting to explore (which is like taking trampolining to the streets!).

I believe we all deserve to have passions and interests in our lives that we love.

Sometimes we need a little help and guidance finding what they might be.

How about you? How do you inspire the future photographers of the world? Do you feel we have a responsibility to?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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22 thoughts on “Inspiring The Future Photographer – It’s Up To Us”

  1. I don’t want to be responsible for inspiring anyone, I don’t want to take photography that seriously. If people are inspired by my photos, then great, but beyond that… I don’t want to get involved.

      1. Well when I was at uni, I used to take photos during nights out. I can’t remember being that interested in taking photos before then, and I don’t think anyone really inspired me; I just wanted photos I could share with my friends. Fast forward a year or so after graduation: I hated my job and was at a music festival with a friend. I saw a woman photographer shooting one of the bands and I just thought, “I want to do that.” So I went out and bought a bridge camera to hone my skills, and the rest is history. Of course I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than doing concert photography now 😂

      2. So in that moment at the gig when you saw that photographer, it inspired you to explore photography yourself. This is exactly what I mean. It doesn’t have to be by sharing your work, it can just be the fact that you are out there making pictures, and when you use cameras other than phones, it’s all the more visible and makes a greater impact.

      3. Well that’s why I said it’s ok if others are inspired by my photos, but I myself don’t plan to inspire others… it’s just not on my radar, I don’t care really. To me, it seemed like you were saying we should actively try to inspire others. I don’t mind passively doing it, but I’m not going to actively do anything 😊

  2. Very thoughtful write-up, Dan. Thanks for sharing.

    Personally, I think all of us who were born and grew up prior to the internet and the digital age should be trying to convey to the younger generations that there is much more to life than technology and social media (much better things). And that these very real things hold infinitely more value and meaning than the life-wasting virtual nonsense that most younger people preoccupy themselves with today (to the point of being totally consumed by them), which I would argue have zero value.

    1. Thanks P. I do largely agree. I guess I see myself as part of a cross-over generation with technology. At school we had some minor experience with computers, enough to not be intimated by them as an adult. I had a Commodore Vic20, then a 64, which I learned basic programming on, but mostly played games! I even did my degree in Computing (and Maths), but this was still before the internet was mainstream, so much of it was theoretical, and around systems analysis and so on. About 1% was any use for how I actually use computers today!

      But at the same time, most of what I remember about my childhood was playing in woods and fields, often on my bike, or if indoors I played endlessly with Lego, Star Wars, Action Man, and read voraciously.

      As a teen and in my early 20s, I went out to pubs and gigs and clubs to chat and share and dance. Even if I did have a computer and a console at home which I also enjoyed.

      Technology can be fantastically enabling. We wouldn’t be talking here if the internet didn’t exist. I’ve learned a huge amount on all kinds of topics thanks to the internet, and been able to create and share and connect across the world…

      And it can be great fun. I have good memories of playing stuff like sports games on the Nintendo Wii with multiple members of the family, and it being as fun as a more conventional board game. I would argue that many solo games are more immersive and interactive than watching TV. I recall games like Silent Hill on the original PlayStation scaring and thrilling me more than any movie (and I’m a fan of movies).

      But… I do agree about how much technology activity today seems so superficial and pointless. I’ve ranted before about social media as a photographer, so I won’t repeat that, at least not too much!

      More concerning is how it is shaping what people believe to be true/real/normal. I read a post just yesterday, but written about year ago, on the blog of a guy who I consider very intelligent and savvy. But he left Facebook because he realised it was starting to skew his view of reality, and how he saw himself, and compared himself with others. If someone of this apparent intelligence can be influenced, it’s worrying what an impact such sites are having on less grounded and more malleable minds.

      1. Your last paragraph is exactly what I was getting at.

        Yes, technology can be enabling, at least to a degree. And you’re right, without it this conversation wouldn’t be happening (although if possible I always prefer to have a discussion with people face-to-face) and our paths likely never would have crossed. And indeed, one can learn a lot of things from the massive volume of information online (especially from technical resources), although they should be very careful not to accept anything outright without thinking about it for themselves.

        But, and this is the key thing, the way you and I view technology — and the internet in particular — is vastly different than the way people born into view it, on both a conscious and subconscious level. Our mindsets are entirely different, so different in fact that I think most people who have been around since before the digital age fail to realize just how disconnected from reality the younger generations are. I would argue huge numbers of young people today don’t even know what a true friendship or meaningful relationship is, and many likely never will. That’s due to technology — and the internet in particular — and it’s a very serious problem. There’s nothing social about social media, or anything done on a computer, phone, or any other “connected” device. It’s a false reality. What happens to the world when there’s nobody left that understands what’s real and what’s not, what has true value and what doesn’t?

        Yes, I can also enjoy a good movie (something not full of trash), or a quality single-player videogame (multiplayer games never did much for me) with a compelling story/narrative and beautiful art design (both visually and technically), but both are seemingly becoming more and more rare. But once again, I think the way people like us approach these things is vastly different than how younger people do and thus it affects us entirely differently.

        I’m actually a very technical person. My education and background is nearly entirely rooted in technological fields, so I hope you don’t think I’m some old-timer that’s intimidated by technology, has no understanding of it, and therefore just doesn’t “get it.” I’m not. That said, I think old-timers who have avoided modern technology their entire existence have in general lived much more fulfilling lives.

        One additional thing to note here is that by my estimation the younger generations are actually not more tech savvy than prior generations. They’re not smarter. In fact, most younger people know very little, if anything, about the technology driving any of the things they use all day everyday. Just because a person was handed a piece of technology at a young age and started using it all the time (a phone, a computer, a tablet, etc.) doesn’t mean they understand it at all. It just means they are a user of it because they always have been. That in itself is a serious problem, for reasons that are hopefully obvious.

        Anyways, I wholeheartedly commend you and your wife for your efforts to introduce your kids to things that have real value. It’s important, and you clearly understand that.

        Take care, Dan.

      2. Our kids are young enough (11, 6, 4 months) to have not yet been immersed. The older two can use an iPad or computer but aren’t at the stage where we’d even allow any social media.

        So for them the internet is a way to look up stuff, play the odd game, watch films or programmes (through apps like BBC iPlayer and Disney Life), and a few educational apps via their school.

        So I guess I’m suspended between ages – mine and my kids – and don’t know many people in their late teens to early 20s that use social media extensively.

        I did see an interesting programme the other day about Japan. It’s only one person’s perspective, but they felt there is a huge importance placed on work and career, at the sacrifice of almost everything else, including relationships. I think something like a third of 30 somethings have never been in a relationship. The authorities are running certain schemes like dating evenings where people can learn a new skill like cooking, and meet other people, as it’s reached a crisis point. Also some families have robots and robotic animals, like dogs, as part of the family and the children treat them the same as another live pet or sibling. There’s also a growing number of older people on their own, and lonely. There are business where they have a group of actors on their books who are hired out to play the part of someone’s friend, wife, husband etc. One man hired an actress so he could take her to meet his mother, and introduce the actress as his new wife. This appeared to be a fairly long term arrangement, as the “wife” then visited the mother (in law) by herself to take her our for walks and so on, whilst the son was working… My predominant feeling in all of this was one of sadness.

      3. Yes, it is sad. And I think we’re at risk of those sorts of things becoming the new “normal” everywhere, at which point humanity will effectively have completely lost itself. The examples you mentioned that are already happening, and many more that we could talk about, are exactly the sort of disconnects from reality I was talking about. And I think it’s difficult to argue against technology, and again the internet in particular, being directly responsible.

  3. It seems to me that the best way to inspire the future photographer is to make and widely share real photographs, i.e., paper prints. The generation and viewing of ephemeral digital images is so ubiquitous these days that I see no need to further inspire it.

    1. Doug, this is a great point. I guess by photography I meant intentional photography with a “proper” camera, rather than with phones. Though my first three or four cameras were phones…

      But yes the whole prints aspect is something that is disappearing. Aside from how good a print can look compared to an image on a screen, the fact that it is a physical object that occupies and physical space means it’s harder to ignore than a digital image on a hard drive or in the cloud. Making prints would certainly make people think longer and deeper about the images they were making.

      1. I have to laugh when I read commentators on the web talking about needing terabytes of storage for their hundreds of thousands of virtual images that nobody will ever see.

      2. Ah but Doug, when you’ve just upgraded again to a new 42MP camera that’s made you a much better photographer (because that’s what all the reviews and forums have convinced you), of course you’re going to need the extra TBs of storage for all those 100MB RAW files! It’s all part of the same marketing conspiracy!

    1. Yes, and as with my poetry experience, it doesn’t even need to be a great teacher over a period of time, just one lesson, or even one aspect of one lesson can make a huge impact.

      Good to see you Katherine!

  4. What a wonderful personal accounting here, Dan. Love that story in the beginning. That’s an interesting townscape in the abstracted, blurry exposure above. Is that your village or town? Commend you for letting your oldest take up with a camera, that’s just fantastic! Do the same with my boys although so far it has been my more impulsive, youngest (7 years old) who seems consistently interested, more than just an occasional basis, in the workings of those worn-out slrs on the shelf. It’s the little things, like I’m so proud of the way he cradles the lens in one hand to steady his shooting. Or how he studiously and with exaggerated detail informs his mother what EV compensation is all about, lol! And how he insists on using the manual focus over AF. Several weekends ago he begged to bring his favorite camera along for a walk in the woods, had my reservations but I was pleasantly surprised and delighted at his thoughtfulness of our surroundings as he sought worthy subject matter or slices of light penetrating the forest canopy.

    Always have greatly admired Morrissey as a musician and artist, his work with the Smiths and solo stuff figure prominently in my catalog but doggone he’s went off the rails even more than usual these days. He canceled his show in Seattle last week, not sure how much it had if anything to do with a kerfuffle with a heckling fan in the audience at his Portland show. Wonder what Johnny Marr is up to these days? For awhile he’d taken up a Pacific Northwest residency.

    1. J, thanks for your thoughts and comments.

      I want to try to write more engaging and story based posts here, too often I veer into techy/gear stuff that’s probably pretty dull to most!

      The photograph I made with my original Holga 120N, modified to take 35mm film. During processing somehow the film got overlaid on itself and gave the resultant sprocket holes. Definitely a happy accident! It’s Brighton, the nearest city to me, on the coast about 15 miles south of us. Very eclectic and colourful place.

      Great to hear of you nurturing your boys in photography, and not just point and shoot! I think even with the latter it’s very useful to give two basic tips to kids – 1. Squeeze the shutter button halfway to lock focus (watch for the green square/dot/light to come on) then press all the way to take the shot. 2. Hold the camera as steady as possible. These two simple (to us!) tips will eliminate at least 50% of blurry, misfocused photographs!

      Morrissey is an enigma! I discovered the Smiths later on, when I was around 20 perhaps and they’d been long split up. A magnificent body of work in such a short time. Morrissey has had his moments solo, though I haven’t followed anything new for at least a decade, probably more. Records like Vauxhall and I contain some fabulous tracks such as Now My Heart Is Full, Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning and The Lazy Sunbathers… I think the last record (CD) I bought was Maladjusted, which is patchy, to say the least. Still the odd gem like Trouble Loves Me shines with a mixture of wit and poignancy – “still running round / on the flesh rampage / at your age … go to Soho, oh / go to waste in the wrong arms…”

      Johnny Marr seems on the surface to have done little since The Smiths, I haven’t really followed him, as lyrics were always more my thing than guitars. That said, he had a magnificent partnership with Morrissey, managing to make memorable guitar melodies which Morrissey than sung all around, rather than along to, which I always thought was terribly clever of them both. Especially some of those hypnotic early tracks like Reel Around The Fountain and Suffer Little Children…

      What’s your favourite track – either Smiths or solo Morrissey?

      1. Same for me about the Smiths (discovering them after they’d broken up), that work certainly stands alone and has to be held up as separate and better, IMHO. My progression was a little bit backward in that I was exposed to The Smiths sort of first (but not really) when my rebellious older sister came back to the farm from university and pleasantly surprised me with this strange, different sound but I wasn’t ready to receive it and a couple of years later when I left home and heard Viva Hate, for better or for worse that’s when I was introduced to Morrissey and received an opening to rediscover The Smiths properly with the result I was a bit more discriminating but still just about every song on that album was a pleasure to that late bloomer and in retrospect I even have to credit the dust around Bengali for pricking the certain consciousness of the country bumpkin though it was the pre-internet days and coming out of the Rust Belt I hadn’t really discovered good radio or journalism. Thanks for the thoughts about Real Player One, I haven’t seen it though my oldest boy asked about it in the not too distant past because he’d read the book. You’re doing such a wonderful job tacking this thing, Dan.

      2. None of Moz’s solo records are as complete or consistent as The Smiths. Though Everyday Is Like Sunday from Viva Hate is still magnificent, and incredibly, definitively English (to me).

        Ready Player One is worth watching I think, once you accept it’s essentially like watching an extended video game that’s a mash up of most of what you remember from the 80s.

        Still, it does try to give a glimpse of where we could be going and some of the deeper concerns about how much time people spend in alternative realities online (which don’t have to be fantasy video games – the likes of Facebook and Instagram and the false idenities people offer up as their “normal” are in my view far more dangerous!)

        It’s bizarre almost to think of the way our children will have to make their own judgements about what is true and real, whereas wehn I was a child it was almost as simple as if you read it in a (non-fiction reference) book, it was unquestionably true. How will they make sense of it all?

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