Photography – The Unlikely Influences

Most artists are sooner or later asked about their influences, especially if they are not obvious in their work.

And those asking would usually expect the response to be others in the same artistic field.

So a photographer might list their favourite three photographers, or a singer the top vocalists that inspired them.

But I don’t think my most important influences have been photographers at all.

Now I don’t want to start to sound all pretentious and aloof, I don’t consider myself an amazing photographer, but I do think it’s interesting for any of us to consider what has shaped us so far in what we choose to make ourselves.

So here, in no particular order, are five of my biggest, and perhaps unlikely, photographic influences.

Stanley Kubrick

I’m no Kubrick connoisseur, and haven’t seen many of his films, but two I have both had a very strong impact on me.

The Shining, and 2001: A Space Odyssey and both very powerful visually, especially particular scenes, like the snapshots of the twins in the corridor before the river of blood starts to flow in slow motion in The Shining, or the bone thrown into the air then becoming a satellite in space, in 2001.

Both films have a series of images within them that are unforgettable, and made me want to make images that are striking and memorable too.

David Lynch

Despite many of his films having quite a dark and nasty side, and me generally wanting to avoiding anything like that, Lynch probably remains my second favourite film maker.

(George Lucas of course, since you asked).

Like Kubrick, his films feature very visual and striking scenes, and my favourite, Mulholland Drive, is masterful in this.

It just looks so amazing, so, well, visual, and not in the sense of any computer trickery, just strong colours and compositions and subjects.

It’s the kind of film you could extract dozens of stills from and them be fantastic photographs in themselves.

Again, it made me wish I could create photographs even a fraction as visceral and unforgettable.

Mark Rothko

Probably the most direct and literal influence here, Rothko is famous for his colour field paintings of large almost floating blocks of colour.

Again it showed me how minimal arrangements can still be resonant and emotive.

When I first saw a Rothko original in person, I was amazed at the textures of the paint up close too.

Which is another core pillar of my own photography, how sometimes texture is more interesting and beautiful than overall colour or composition.



This one could have been a number of artists, and nearly all of them go back to Brian Eno and his Ambient 1 record.

But Labradford managed to take that clean minimalism and give it more edge, more mystery and more emotion, and never better than on their Mi Media Naranja record.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I’ve always thought of this as the soundtrack to a David Lynch movie not yet made, so a thread runs through here.

I’ve longed to make images that have this much originality and presence, whilst remaining pretty stripped down and simple.

It’s still one of the records I feel I can be completely lost in, more physical and encompassing than just sound, and similarly I’d like my photographs to transcend their primary sense, ie be more than just a pretty visual.

My Bloody Valentine 

I don’t quite remember how I first discovered My Bloody Valentine, but I know it was their Loveless album (and stand out track I Only Said) that utterly mesmerised me. I’d heard nothing quite so euphoric, joyous, immersive and layered before, and yet with barely any lyrics.

This was something of a revolution to someone who was a pretty prolific poet at the time and endlessly pored over and analysed song lyrics.

As with any great art, it’s almost impossible to adequately to describe with words, but I knew (and still know) that I would love to be able to make something as intoxicating in any art form.

It strongly influenced my early painting experiments (again, quite an artistic departure for a devoted wordsmith), and naturally that flowed on to my photography further down the road.

I think it can be explained best as using simple minimal hypnotic layers to create something greater than its parts.

Loveless also showed me how blissful the blurred edges can be, and again this distinctly informs my photographs with their often heavy reliance on the beautiful out of focus areas, instead of clean, sharp, clinical images.


How about you? What are your (unlikely or otherwise) major photography influences? 

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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11 thoughts on “Photography – The Unlikely Influences”

  1. Very interesting post… I enjoyed learning your influences.
    As for me… I would say that artistically I am a product of classical music in the most popular aspects, my favorite probably being Schubert, followed by Bach, Beethoven and some Mozart. But the funny thing is, I don’t listen to it very much – but when I do it moves my soul. Even rock music that I like is usually based on the classical art form.
    Blues rock with pop sensibilities also usually has my attention.
    Visually, nothing probably moves me more than french painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s portraits.
    But in terms of photography, William Eggleston taught me to find “beauty in the boring”, or to just go out and take pictures. I also really enjoy the work of Colton Allen, a photographer from PentaxForums that struggles with ALS to the point that he is barely able to work with a camera, but his photographs are true works of art.

    1. Thanks Christian.

      I find sometimes with cameras I’m like you are with classical music. I talk about these wonderful favourites of mine like the Pentax Q, Ricoh GRD III and Lumix LX3, but don’t actually seem to use them anything like as much as I “should” if they’re as good as I say. Hmmm…

      I do really like some classical but only really of the soundtrack variety. John Williams is an absolutely genius, for Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter to name just three. And I fairly recently (perhaps a year back) discovered Alan Silvestri who wrote much of the Avenger movie soundtracks (Endgame being especially excellent, in my uneducated opinion) and career goes back to the early 80s and films like Back To The Future. With Castaway, The Abyss and Contact being highlights in between.

      1. Ah yes, soundtracks are another kind of music that I love when I hear, but don’t really search out to listen to! How odd is that…
        And I’ll agree on John Williams and Alan Silvestri, and throw in Trevor Rabin in the list as well.

  2. Very nice Dan! Those are legendary cinematographers and visionaries! I’m with you on musical and cinematic influences. Lynch’s style is so unique. I’d add a Russian director Tarkovskyi who made some timeless masterpieces and whom I consider to be a true visual composer.

    I’m discovering Labradford thanks to you, it’s very atmospheric and suits nicely into my editing, image selecting background music so thanks for that! I would add Thom Yorke and anything done by Radiohead as my influences. Been a long time fan of his art.

    1. Thanks Yuri, I’ve noted Tarkovskyi. I never mind some more European cinema as a break from the the Hollywood juggernaut.

      Labradford I think are very original in a very overcrowded genre (“ambient”) where much of the music is too background bland and un-engaging.

      On a not dissimilar vein, try Stars of The Lid (Tired Sounds, or And Their Refinement Of The Decline), Eluvium (Copia, or False Readings On) and Brian McBride’s (who’s one half of Stars Of The Lid) When The Detail Lost Its Freedom.

      Labradford’s E Luxo So and Fixed::Content are very good too.

  3. I’ve tried to think about this and I just don’t know who my influences are although surely as the sky’s blue, they’re there. Not being able to answer the question you’ve posed even a little bit causes me some concern that maybe my work doesn’t have the depth I imagine it to and that I’m far more of a snapshooter than I imagine. I’m going to keep pondering this. l really like that one’s influences may not just be limited to other photographers, it’s a fascinating but entirely sensible theory you’ve put forth that I wholeheartedly agree with. My Bloody Valentine is great and I can easily fold those kind of layers in your work, that’s a splendid one!

    1. Thanks Jason. I realised after I wrote this post that I published an almost identical one a while back (you know how it is after you’ve published a couple of dozen posts!) and the five influences were similar, but not the same. So I guess my perception of my influences changes over time too.

      Also, I think a part of me likes to think about only the more “cool” or interesting influences.

      Even if I felt my influences were, say, S Club 7 or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, I wouldn’t likely broadcast it.

      Layers is a vital and fundamental part of any creative work I’ve done – music, painting, poetry, photography.

      On this note, artists like Michael Jackson and The Prodigy are masters of layering melodies, every sound and every instrument contributes to the overall tapestry of sound.

  4. Interesting post. My influences are painters (Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse) and musicians (Miles Davis and other Cool jazz artists). The painters for their use of color and light. Miles and cool jazz because it is minimalist with splashes of color in the form of notes. Actually, I don’t know if the influence me or reinforce my predispositions.

    1. That’s an interesting point J. Do we seek out other artists and influences to guide us in new directions, or do we seek out those we think are like us, and we can connect with already? How much do we start off as a blank canvas ourselves, in terms of what we want to create, ready to be shaped and moulded, and how much is it already decided by our genes natural predispositions? Much to think about!

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