I hate when people ask me if I’m a photographer.
Sometimes it’s the gear that prompts this. They see the expensive looking camera, or maybe pick up my kit for a moment and are taken aback by how heavy it is. “Whoa! You must be a photographer.” Maybe it’s the final shots that have them whoa-ing, but the gear still takes centre-stage: “You’re camera takes great pictures!”
But no, the reason I hate when people ask me if I’m a photographer is because I’m not sure what to say. On the one hand, I most certainly am. I’ve shot weddings, portraiture, and used my photography as the foundation of several paid graphic design projects. I’ve been paid money to shoot. Simple. But on the other hand, I feel like I’m not really a photographer at all. To date, photography has only been a small part of what I do, and after more than ten years looking through a series of increasingly expensive lenses, I’m still not really doing the kind of photography that has always inspired me the most.
All of my favourite photographers are documentary photographers. The famous black and white street scenes of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The blisteringly visceral war photography of James Nachtwey. The artfully realized wedding work of Jeff Ascough.
Their subjects vary considerably, as well as their styles, but there is a thread of consistency among this type of work that transcends stylistic differences. Unlike fashion photography, most forms of portraiture, and pretty much anything done in a studio, quality documentary work is basically true, at least from the photographer’s point of view. They don’t have the luxury or inclination to ask their subjects to turn a bit to the left, or take a few steps back or find a more flattering angle. Their raw material is only what’s there at a given moment; the light as the camera can record it. Their medium is the world itself.
Every artist has the power to manipulate their audience, and documentary photographers are no different. But compared to a painter who can create whole worlds with the strokes of his brush, or a sculptor who can destroy with the driving bite of her chisel, the documentary photographer’s tool box is much more restricted. His only means of manipulating the final image is to choose what to include in or exclude from the frame; what to focus on, what sort of mood to imbue through lighting, composition, focal length. And while the simplest of these tools can still be very powerful means of manipulation, they do not carry the god-like creative potential of other mediums. Some might think this to be a limitation, but for me it has always been photography’s greatest strength. Art is about interpreting the world around us; recording what we see, sharing how we feel. Documentary photography does this in the most literal way possible. To me, this is the main attraction of the photographic medium, and the ideal I have always aspired to in my own style.
I certainly can’t claim to be a photographer on the same level as those mentioned above. More than anyone, I am aware of just how far my work falls short of where I’d like it to be, and this is why I struggle with the dreaded question. But I am a photographer, and although I am not where I want to be in terms of development or recognition, I am proud of how far I’ve come. One of my biggest goals during our travels is to challenge myself photographically, to think in terms of projects not just individual shots, and to push myself outside of my own comfort levels while behind the camera. Street photography is one way to do this, but it’s not the only way.
I am a photographer; one who is becoming surer and surer that this work is and will continue to be a large part of my professional life.
We know we’ve been lax on the updates, but we hope seeing this video will explain our absence. We decided at the last minute to make a video promoting our site for a CIRA contest. The grand prize is a new Macbook Pro laptop. If you’ve seen my beat-up old duct-taped computer, you’d agree we could sorely use one.
So, if we make it to the finals, we’ll be after all of you to help us generate votes. For now, just enjoy the video. If you like it, maybe head over to Youtube and click the thumbs-up icon below the video...
From the video description on our new Youtube account:
March 15, 2010 — This is our entry for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s “Show us Your .CA” contest. It’s the second video we’ve made, and I think we’ve improved on our skills. We’d love to hear some opinions in the comments. Most importantly, vote for us in the contest (if we make it to the finals).
The music is by the Ramblin’ Ambassadors, an awesome surf rock band from our home city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They were kind enough to grant us permission to use the songs, even though I went about it all in the wrong way. Bill at their record label, helped set it all up. Thanks guys!
After reading Laura’s account of our first day in London, I thought I’d put up a few of my favourite shots from the day to complement her narrative.
Walking: the profession of Chris and Laura Beauchamp, our new full-time job.
The morning air was cold and a thin layer of snow covered the ground. We headed for the British Museum but it was 8:15 am and it didn’t open until 10:00 am. Instead we walked to the Covent Garden Market.
The market was just starting to unravel. Again, we were too early. So, we walked. We walked towards the river, along a place called Sommerset House, which was also closed and we kept walking up a street full of theatres with huge billboards and signs that would probably be flashing with life and entising the crowd, but they too were closed. So, we walked.
By now we were already quite cold. Chris didn’t have mittens or a scarf, but even with those I was getting chilled to the bone. To warm-up we found a coffee shop in front of a castle-like building, the Royal Courts of Justice.
After warming our fingers for a short while, we walked. Behold, out of the winding street and hugging British buildings was St. Paul’s cathedral. We took a couple shots and then went inside.
As I walked through the revolving door which informed me that this was the house of God and I was entering the gates of heaven, I was promptly informed by another sign that it would cost me 15.00 pounds to enter. I had a flash back to my high school history class and something about purchasing tokens or tickets for heaven...
Needless to say, we didn’t pay. Instead, we walked towards the TATE MODERN, a fabulous modern art gallery that has FREE ENTRY. Along the way we spotted this memorial in honour of the firefighters who died during the Blitz. It was covered in row after row of the men’s names.
At the Tate, we walked through the many galleries looking at Surrealism, Cubism, Arte Povera and more. A few of the pieces we saw were by Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Robert Therrien.
Not wanting to pay 10 pounds each to see the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, we took a photo of the outside. Unfortunately during this time of year no plays are offered in the Globe. I believe they are only available in the spring and summer.
From the Globe Theatre we headed to the Tower Bridge, the famous bridge of London which is often confused as being “London Bridge”. It’s not. London bridge is remarkably mundane. The Tower Bridge on the other hand is quite remarkably extraordinary. They can still lift the bridge to allow the passage of large sea vessels, but a 24 hour notice is required. I was amazed at this considering the construction of the road looks like ordinary, solid asphalt.
We had fully intended on visiting the Tower of London, located next to the Tower Bridge, but it was 3:30 pm and it closed at 4:30 pm and at 17 pounds/person we decided against it. Nonetheless, with the wonderful lighting from the setting sun, I snapped a shot of Chris.
The tower was used to hold prisoners and to house the royals many, many years ago.
Chris and I had now been outside, walking, for 9 hours. I was thoroughly chilled to the bone and was having a lot of trouble warming up. We went and sat in a church for awhile to take advantage of the heat and then we started the looming walk back across the city to our hostel. Before we got more than 10 meters from the church we saw a huge column and people were at the top of it. “Let’s go” Chris said, “Some stairs should warm us up.” He was right, 311 stairs to the top warmed me up almost as good as a bubble bath and cup of tea.
The column was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666 which destroyed most of London. The column is the tallest free-standing stone column in the world. It is 202 feet (61 meters) tall which is the exact distance from it to the place where the fire started. It was after the fire that buildings were constucted out of brick or stone.
I recall Calgary, Alberta, Canada also had to learn this lesson in the late 1800’s after a fire destroyed most of downtown. They rebuilt with sandstone. Um? The reason why anyone would study history suddenly becomes clear.
Needless to say, Chris and I walked back down the 311 steps and kept walking until we finally got “home” at 10:00 pm. After walking this 14 kilometer journey through London, not counting the walking within buildings, we immediately went to sleep.