I have been asked this question by three different people, in three different ways over the last week. Each time my answer was yes! Nothing controversial there you might say and you would be right, but let me make my answer a little deeper.
Each of my questioners owned cameras they did not understand. They had DSLRs that they had inherited from their fathers or partners that had died and the cameras had sat in cupboards unloved ever since.
Having encouraged them to dust those cameras down and set them on fully automatic I began to question them as to what they are interested in, what are their passions and interests. Finding your subject matter I explained is the most difficult element to conquer with photography, not how the camera works, but it is an answer that can only be found within your personal life.
This always provokes a sense of surprise based upon an incredulity that they as people are more important than the camera and that photography can be that simple. I believe in keeping everything simple. Clarity aids understanding and understanding supports practice in all things and photography is no different in that.
However, identifying passions and interests is not easy for all, and therefore finding subject matter can require help from those who understand how to find it. My process in doing this is based upon a series of concise questions of which the first is, “What do you do at the weekend?” An easy to answer question you might think, but you may be surprised how many find this difficult to respond to. What we do can be easily taken for granted and rarely questioned. Walking the dog, going for a walk, a run, and a bike ride were the answers I received in the past week.
The responders saw no connection between these activities and photography, but of course they are the basis of any photographic practice; getting out and experiencing new sites and meeting people. I suggested to the dog walker that she start photographing her fellow walkers and their dogs. She seemed surprised that this was an option, but liked the idea and I will be looking at the images she makes over the coming weeks. I hope that her journey with photography has begun with a new sense of understanding of what is important. I also hope that her confidence starts to build without the fear of getting things ‘wrong’. Mistakes and failures are to be encouraged, but they should not be seen as barriers to experimentation.
Everyone has something that means something to them, therefore everyone has something they could begin photographing. It doesn’t matter what that something is. However, not everybody has a love for tech, or the ability to understand manuals, the good news is that photography today does not need that love or ability and these facts should be celebrated.
Dr. Grant Scott is the 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). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com
© Grant Scott 2022