Photographer Stories That Need to Be Recorded for History

In the past weeks we have lost photographers Mick Rock and Tom Stoddart. A few weeks ago we lost Colin Jones and over the past year I have noted for our A Photographic Life New Years Eve podcast that 41 professional photographers have died in 2021 at the time of writing. Some after a full and creative life, others too early in their lives, all of them missed by their friends, families and admirers of their work.

Lives lived, means adventures had, and the camera is often a starting point or instigator of those adventures. It introduces us to people, and situations that many would never have the opportunity to meet or experience without that camera in their hands. We learn from the experience of others and the stories they could tell are essential to our learning.

Whilst making our film on Bill Jay ( three contributors died, sadly their potential contributions were never recorded. Since completing the film a further three people who did contribute have died, fortunately their memories were recorded and sit safely on my hard drives.

It has never been easier to record audio and video, whether with a piece of professional equipment or a smartphone. There is no excuse not to.

The memories of our friends and families have huge personal relevance to us and should be recorded for posterity, for those to come and for family history. The memories of photographers are of equal importance, they bring us insight, and understanding of the medium, the images created and the photographers themselves, all of which is part of the history of photography.

I know as a documentary filmmaker the importance of first person testimony. Interpretation and reflection by others, critics, friends and colleagues can provide context, but it is the voice of the person who pressed the shutter that is most important.

It is why we include a photographer every week within our A Photographic Life podcast answering the question “What Does Photography Mean to You?” and why we have created a book from some of those answers.

Therefore, my suggestion is short and simple. Record those stories, ensure that they are not lost for posterity. I guarantee when it is too late, you will regret not having made a recording of someone who can no longer tell their story.

Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).

Grant’s book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99

© Grant Scott 2021

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