I have just spent a week in St.Ives, Cornwall. It was a family holiday in a friend’s fisherman’s cottage opposite Barbara Hepworth’s former dwelling and studio. Our first holiday in a few years in a place I first visited in 1983. It’s changed but so have I. Back then I was an art school student just out of school, today I am a man in late middle age attempting to maintain that art school energy and enthusiasm. This is our first holiday post pandemic.
Both times I travelled to St.Ives I took a camera. I have no photographs from the first trip, although I remember images from Hepworth’s garden. I don’t know why, but this time photography was front and centre in my vacation thinking.
New places, new spaces inspire the mind and heighten the ability to see what the locals do not.
It is why it can be so difficult to make images on our own doorstep. Finding something inspirational in the everyday is not easy. That is why when we travel our photographic eye is reinvigorated.
However, the new space comes with its own dangers. The lure of bright, shiny things and instant gratification of the obvious image can easily lead to generic image making. Sometimes it’s worth making images to get them out of your system, although I prefer to not make them at all. To do either of these requires the photographer to be aware of what the obvious images are, again not always easy.
The new space requires work, in the shape of walking and talking. It needs to be discovered and understood, explored and questioned.
I have been leaving the house before the rest of the family wake-up and walking, taking off in new directions without any knowledge of my destination. My camera in hand. Alert to the small things on my journey. It is the small things that are so easily missed.
New eyes come with new places and spaces; our eyes are refreshed and our sense of wonder is reignited. It is then that we see what others ignore. Observations make images but they can also build narrative and it is through storytelling that disparate images become a body of work and not tourist snap shots.
It is rare to stumble upon stories, you have to instigate them through conversation and/or research. They require an intellectual engagement with image making in addition to process. In a new space this requires the photographer to reach out not only to new environments but also new acquaintances. New spaces, new friends, new knowledge and new eyes lead to fulfilling photographic engagement and in my opinion a successful holiday.
It doesn’t matter to me if the images made come to any specific physical conclusion, they may and they may not, no pressure. The pleasure was in the making, but now the challenge is to maintain my enthusiasm for daily image making now that I am home with new eyes in old spaces.
*If you are looking for somewhere great to stay in St.Ives I can highly recommend where we stayed, www.stivesholidayrental.uk owned by a fellow photographer who did not ask me to include this recommendation!
Dr. 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). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
© Grant Scott 2022