I recently picked up a copy of “Photo Work: Forty Photographers on Process and Practice“, Edited by Sasha Wolf.
The introductory blurb on Amazon.com describes the books as follows:
PhotoWork is a collection of interviews by forty photographers about their approach to making photographs and, more importantly, a sustained body of work. Curator and lecturer Sasha Wolf was inspired to seek out and assemble responses to these questions after hearing from countless young photographers about how they often feel adrift in their own practice, wondering if they are doing it the “right” way. The responses, from both established and newly emerging photographers, reveal there is no single path. Their advice is wildly divergent, generous, and delightful: Justine Kurland discusses the importance of allowing a narrative to unravel; Doug DuBois reflects on the process of growing into one’s own work; Dawoud Bey evokes musicians such as Miles Davis as his inspiration for never wanting to become “my own oldies show.” The book is structured through a Proust-like questionnaire, in which individuals are each asked the same set of questions, creating a typology of responses that allows for an intriguing compare and contrast.
I initially found the first few interviews to be somewhat boring, but after reading more I started to develop an interest in the way these photographers think and work.
Now I’m not much of a photographer. I’m passionate about photography and take quite a lot of photographs, most of them not particularly good. I’ve never exhibited (and probably never will) and have only produced a few photobooks, largely for myself and my family. I hope to do more, but so far…Other that that my primary mechanism for sharing my photographs is social media.
So I decided that it might help me if I tried to answer the questions myself.
For many years I would have said that it was a Minolta Hi-matic 7sII given to me by my wife many years ago. Then one day, while cleaning out some drawers, I came across a photograph of my father with our dog. I’d completely forgotten about this photograph and it reminded me that I had once had another camera: A Kodak Brownie Vecta. My friend had a camera and a dark room and I had to have one too (a camera that is not a dark room). I was about 11 years old and my interest soon waned. I think I only used it once.
First Meaningful Photobook
The earliest memories I have are of books in the Time Life photography series. Also “The Camera” by Ansel Adams. Even though these have lots of pictures, I’m not sure that they would be considered as “photobooks”. Probably the first real photobook was “Atget” by John Szarkowski. I’m fascinated by Atget to this day.
First meaningful exhibition
I grew up in a working class family in the North of England. Visiting exhibitions was not something that my parents would have found useful or necessary. When I went to university I was too busy studying other things to consider looking for exhibitions and to be honest in those days I was more interested in music and literature than in photography. Later I moved from the UK to New York, got married and had a family. Only some time later, when my interest in photography grew did I think about going to exhibitions. I recall going to exhibitions of Strand, Steichen and Stieglitz at the Metropolitan Museum; Garry Winogrand also at the Met, and Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastião Salgado at the International Center of Photography.
For many years I was obsessed with time, waking up every 15 minutes or so for a second or two to check the time. I still am to some extent although much less so since I retired.
What comes first for you: the idea or a project, or individual photographs that suggest a concept?
Usually the individual photograph. I wander around taking photographs that interest me. Usually this results in a collection of individual photographs. Occasionally, however, it might occur to me that I’ve already taken some similar photographs and this can cause me to start to look for yet more similar photographs thus leading to a project. Rarely I’m reading something that suggests to me an idea for a project.
What are the key elements that must be present for you when you are creating a body of work?(Social commentary, strong form, personal connection, photographic reference…)?
The photograph must have a subject, which I find interesting. After that probably can I make a good composition out of it: Light, form, line, shapes, texture, patterns etc. If the photograph has some kind of personal connection then so much the better. Very occasionally I might take a photograph because it reminds me of a photographer that I admire. Social commentary never enters into it.
Is the idea of a body of work important to you? How does it function in relation to making a great individual photograph?
For a long time the idea of a body of work was not important to me, but I’ve since changed my mind and find the idea of a number of related images, structured in a way that makes the whole greater than the original photographs to be appealing. I like to tell stories. Ideally, of course, I’d like them all the photographs to be great individual images, but I’m willing to include lesser images if they further the overall story.
Do you have what you might call a “photographic style”?
I wish I did, but unfortunately I don’t feel that I do at the moment. I can’t imagine that any one would look at any of my photographs and recognize that it was by Howard Dale. I don’t have that talent – maybe never will.
Where would you say your style falls on a continuum between completely intuitive and intellectually formulated?
Initially completely intuitive when I take the pictures. If I”m later organizing them, say for a photobook then the more intellectual side kicks in.
Assuming you now shoot in what you would consider your natural voice, have you ever wished your voice was different?
I’m not sure that I have a “natural voice” at the moment. If so I don’t recognize what it is. This being the case I’ve never wished that my voice was different. However, if I did someday develop my “natural voice” I can’t imagine that I would wish it to be different. I am what I am and have no wish to be anything else.
How do you know when a body of work is finished?
Sometimes it’s obvious e.g. you a dealing with a finite number of pictures and you’ve taken as many as you can. I once took a series of pictures at a nearby air museum. I took all that I wanted to take and don’t imagine that I’d want to go back and take more. Sometimes a body of work never seems to end. There is always more to add. Sometimes I just run out of steam and call an end to the process.
Have you ever had a body of work that was created in the editing process?
Almost every time. Once I’ve started on a project I end of with a lot of images. Deciding what to include and what to leave out is to me possibly the most difficult part of a project. I have a general idea of what story I’m trying to tell so organizing the images so that they support this story is very important.
Do you associate your work with a particular genre of photography? If yes, how would you define that genre?
One of my weaknesses is that I have not yet managed to focus on a single genre. I bounce around from one to another. I do, however, have some idea of genres that don’t interest me all that much: commercial photography; portrait photography; wedding photography. You might see a thread here: I’m not comfortable with people and avoid genres that require a lot of contact with people. I admire street photographers, but tend to shy away from it because of the people issue. I suppose I’m some sort of documentary photographer (not social documentary however. I’m not trying to change the world). I have two main interests: photography and history. I’m happiest when I can combine the two.
Do you ever revisit a series that has already been exhibited or published to shoot more and add to it?
I have not so far exhibited or published (other than the odd self-produced photo book. However, with the photobooks that I have done I have often wanted to add more photographs.
Do you ever revisit a series that has already been exhibited or published and reedit it?
I haven’t but I can well imagine that I might.
Do you create with presentation in mind,be that a gallery show or a book?
Not really. At this point I time I mostly think in terms of photobooks and social media postings and I can usually make my photographs fit. I suppose that if I had an upcoming exhibition or a photobook to be published I might. But since none of these has so far occurred I don’t know for sure.