I get it. Ansel Adams inspires you. Perhaps Bresson, and maybe Gursky too. But there's another world of creative geniuses outside the realms of photography where you can draw creative ideas and energy from. Here are two people that influence me.
When I was younger, I wasn’t really into photography. Through my school years and all through my time at university I was far more interested in drawing, particularly sketching, comic characters, and surfing scenes. Through those experiences, I learnt about things such as vanishing points, perspective, scale, and rules of composition such as the golden spiral and the rule of thirds. However, as I got busier in life and I started working and traveling, I found I didn’t really have the time to do much drawing and I was attracted to the immediacy of photography.
As such, I can’t say I had any great photographic influences in terms of particular individuals. To be honest, I’d never even heard of Ansel Adams when I bought my first digital camera in my early 20s, so I can’t really say he was a great influence on me, especially considering he shot in film and mostly around Yosemite National Park in the United States. What I can say with certainty with regards to Adams is that I highly value his desire to continually push himself further and come up with concepts that weren’t common place at the time. His ability in the dark room is legendary, as is his zoning system, which is still used in the digital era today.
To that end, he has been a great influence on me because I admire and respect people who are always pushing themselves beyond the boundaries of normalcy and trying to come up with ideas and techniques that are beyond what is generally accepted at the time or different from what most other people are doing. And that brings us to the topic of influences we derive inspiration from outside the specific world of photography. I’m going to introduce two people today who I admire and explain why they’ve had an impact on me and how they have helped to shape my approach to photography.
The first is a singer/songwriter from Australia named Tash Sultana. She’s only 24 years old now but has already received a lot of critical acclaim and commercial success. It’s not so much that I absolutely adore her music, it’s more the fact that she is literally a one person band. Indeed, if you look at the blurb on her debut album on iTunes it says that she wrote, arranged, produced, and played all 15 instruments during its creation. They include the guitar, the saxophone, the trumpet, the pan flute, the mandolin, and the drums, among others. To see her play is wonderfully inspiring because not only is she adept with a vast array of instruments, but she plays them all so unbelievably well. It’s one thing to play a lot of instruments, but to also arrange them and put them together to make songs that are critically acclaimed and well received by the wider public is an inconceivably difficult task for most, but at 24 she has done it all.
This inspires and influences my photography because it reminds me not to box myself into one particular genre. I have always loved the ocean and lived near the ocean so I can get a little swept up in seascape photography or surfing photography and sometimes I feel like I’m becoming one-dimensional. But when I look at someone like Tash Sultana and see how she finds inspiration in different instruments, it helps me to explore different areas of photography and to push myself to improve in areas that I’m not particularly good at, or find ideas and elements of creativity in genres of photography that I might have previously dismissed or ignored.
The second person who really inspires me is a guy called Steven Sawyer. To those outside the surfing world, he’s probably a name you’ve never heard of, but I genuinely respect him because of the way he’s been able to adapt to, and recognize the world and industry in which he lives. He grew up surfing in South Africa riding a shortboard at a famous surfing break called Jeffreys Bay. He was very talented and had continued success in national junior competitions, but making a living from shortboarding in the current surfing industry is very difficult and very cutthroat. So what did he do? He took up longboarding, which is an entirely different style and approach to riding waves, particularly with regards to the way they’re both judged in competitions. For anyone who’s tried both, you would know that they are worlds apart and it is not simple to switch from one to the other, least of all at an elite level. However, not only did Sawyer make the switch from shortboarding to longboarding, he went on to win the world longboarding championship in 2018.
This had a great impact on me in terms of my photography because it reinforced the notion that you can’t always steadfastly stick to what you love and enjoy if it’s patently clear that you’re not going to make a living from it (if that’s what you want to do.) Sawyer is incredibly talented at shortboarding but he recognized early that he might not have been quite able to get to that high, elite level in order to carve out a career, so he made the conscious decision to switch to longboarding. And while it’s not as lucrative as shortboarding, he has been able to create a nice existence for himself and market himself and his band through his longboarding success.
This is a reminder to all of us in the photography world that we might have some particular styles of photography that we love and are genuinely passionate about, but if they don’t pay the bills we have to be honest about that and understand that we might have to put those passions to one side if we want to receive a salary from our photographic endeavors. After all, sunsets and flowers don’t pay for many of us, so we need to find ways in which we can use our knowledge and skills in photography to help us put a roof over our heads and money in our bank accounts.
It's natural to draw inspiration from people who are closely associated with your interests, especially with regards to photography. But creativity lives abundantly throughout modern society and there are endless places and individuals to draw ideas from. Today, I've shared two of many who I admire and try to emulate in certain ways. I'd love to hear about people outside the photography world who have shaped your photographic journey. Please leave your comments below.