Hey Fish, You Are Either A Photographer Or You Are Not

In an attempt to develop the writing aspect to my work that is apparently lacking, and to share my own work and thoughts regarding art and photography, mainly to that part of myself that is unaware of my own worth or opinions until forced to share them, I’ll be keeping this blog updated “regularly” from now on.

I’ll call this little experiment “Through the Fisheye” - I am Fish to the few who know me, and to those who don’t, I’ll let you know now that I am fairly low down the food chain in my chosen industry; yet there are so many of us out there swimming against the invisible tide of inverted totalitarianism and unanswered email pitches that I’m hoping a few in my swarm will relate.

I guess I will start with the bare basics and share a few photographs and bits I am currently working on. Two weeks ago, I came back from a photo tour in Yunnan with Photography School Asia run by Jonathan Taylor, a photojournalist well-known for his gritty TIME feature Speed Demons (an inside look on metamphetamine (“Ya Ba”) culture in Klongtoey slum), exposes on child sex slavery in Northern Thailand and professional hitmen, amongst other subjects that are seemingly beyond reach for the less tenacious (see his work here).

Almost ten years ago I attended Photography School Asia’s inaugural workshop in Bangkok. Jonathan lectured us on the fundamentals of the Light Triangle, the rule of two-thirds and identifying leading lines. Despite having previously done a black and white film development course in high school, at that point I still had no intention of pursuing a career in photography - the camera at the time was just a means to and end, a way of, erm, documenting the things I made with my hands for the purpose of my Fine Art portfolio (only now do I understand the palpable irony of why I was never interested in photography as a fine art) - so it seems rather serendipitous yet grounded in reason to return to my first photography teacher when, now, as I am trying to seriously pursue a career in photojournalism, I am more stuck regarding what to do than when I was still trying to fathom what the fuck an ISO was.

In short, Yunnan is a wonderful location for a photography workshop. I can not recommend the course enough to any aspiring photographer who wants to work on developing their own eye and storytelling skills. Most of the actual learning for me, however, took place over cold beers in a colder bar whilst watching sketchy online streams of Arsenal matches. Those lessons mostly went like this:

Me: I’ve done [a,b,c - all that stuff we fish do: workshops, portfolio reviews, competitions, constant emailing, networking, borrowing money, selling our souls, etc]. It’s been four years. What do I do now?

JT: There is no magic solution. But first you need to work on [x,y,z - seriously, go sign up to Photography School Asia for your customised critique]. Even then there are no guarantees.

Me: I still can’t use the rule of thirds. I’m a lemon.

JT: You’re a lemon. I’ve had to [not my place to repeat here] to get [that] story. You are either a photographer or you are not.

Me: But, I -

(Circle this orbit of conversation a few times with different wording)

Me: So I am thinking of doing [insert my absurd idea for a project here].

JT: Why do you want to do [insert my absurd idea for a project here]?

Me: It’s not a case of wanting to do it. I just have to because [insert my absurd reasoning here].

JT: Find YOUR angle and do it or else find something that you can realistically devote your time to. And you’re either a photographer or…

(Circle this orbit of conversation a few times with different wording)

Me: I can’t help but find Giroud kinda annoying

JT: It’s probably his hair

Me: Oh god what is this

JT: AAAAAAAH

Me: AH FUCK HARRY KANE

JT: YOU ARE EITHER A PHOTOGRAPHER OR YOU ARE -

Look, forget the money. Forget the TIME covers. Forget the assignments. Forget what you think the editor wants. Forget what the editor actually wants (except if you’re on assignment). Devote your life and prepare to die for a story you believe in. You are either a photographer or you are not.

You are either a photographer or you are not. Keep circling your orbit of ill-conceived ideas, flat images and bad edits until you either arrive at that same conclusion and do it again a little bit better this time, or fuck off to another career planet. You are either a photographer or you are not. A lesson to be learned from Jonathan Taylor, my first ever photography teacher, who, in some ways, will also be my last.

23.02.15

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