For many years as an art director I was in the position to commission photographers and photography. I chose to work with photographers whose view of lives interested me, whose life experience intrigued me, whose personalities challenged or appealed to me or who were passionate about a specific subject. All of these were important aspects in my commissioning decision but of course the most important consideration was the work!
I commissioned photographers whose work inspired me, appealed to me and was appropriate for the brief. But mostly I commissioned photographers who created images I couldn’t create myself. Images that seemed to come from some form of photographic alchemy personal to the specific photographers way of seeing the world. Those were the photographers whom I respected the most and still do.
So when I decided to leave art directing behind me and start to build a portfolio as a professional photographer it was only natural that I also wanted to create images of such solidity and originality. Images that others would view with the same sense of awe that I had for the photographers I had worked with.
Initially my plan worked well. I have no formal photographic training, I had learnt about photography from working with and talking to some of the greatest photographers of the last century so no one had ever shown me how to use my camera of choice, a Hasselblad and a light meter. Ignorance proved to be a useful tool as my images were instantly unique to me and admired by clients. I even won an award!
As my experience grew I started to know what I was doing and my images became technically strong. The move to digital meant that my images became even more technically proficient. I lost the naive amateurism that had informed my early images and a battle to avoid generic image-making ensued as my client base grew.
I had always used the term ‘take’ when referring to creating images, never ‘make’ which felt too contrived to me and manipulative a word to describe the images I admired and wanted to emulate in spirit. So I continued taking photographs until a particular shoot last summer.
Faced with a tiny, dark room in a small West London house in which to photograph the textile designer and David Hockney muse Celia Birtwell I suddenly had an epiphany. I wasn’t taking or making her portrait I was trying to find her portrait.
The moment I realised this I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I was there to find something and the successful image I hoped to create would be proof that I had. It’s a risky strategy when working to commission but I liked the way in which it took me back to a more innocent way of creating images. In my search I would try many things but without any concern as to whether I had failed or succeeded on my journey. I just had faith that I would find something.
Ever since that day I have implemented this approach to every commission I have worked on, often explaining the approach to the person I am photographing as an explanation as to how the shoot will progress. As a result I have become much happier with the images I am creating and the sense of spontaneity that has re-appeared in my work. My clients seem to agree.
Then just two weeks ago I was commissioned to shoot a portfolio of celebrity portraits over an extended period of time across a series of varied locations. I set off on the first and employed what has now become my only way of working. I was happy with my chosen final image to send to the client and set out a week later to shoot the second, then a week later the third. It was at this point that I realised that a year after finally finding a way of working that worked for me I was finally finding the images I had hoped to create when I set out as a professional photographer over sixteen years ago.
I now know how to find my images, but I’m not going to stop looking.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of the United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Editorial and Advertising Photography at the University of Gloucestershire, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015).
You can see his work at www.grantscott.com
© Grant Scott 2016