I have heroes, cultural heroes and they have provided me with creative inspiration and aspiration throughout my life. Including but not only, Robin Day, Lucie Rie, Ernest Hemingway, Lenny Bruce, Patrick Heron, Bob Dylan, JD Salinger, Mark E Smith, Nina Simone, John Cooper Clarke, Irving Penn, Eugene Smith, Barbra Hepworth, Bernard Leach, Nick Cave, Edward Weston, Judith Kerr, William Klein, David Hockney, Catherine Deneuve, Evelyn Waugh, Bill Jay, Iris Apfel, Terence Conran, William Boyd, Dieter Rams, Saul Leiter, Alex Brodovitch, Cipe Pineless, Ray Charles, Sally Brampton, Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker, David Bowie, Richard Avedon, Miles Davis, Stanley Tucci, Mark Rothko, Lou Reed, David Mellor and Kenneth Grange.
These people have opened my eyes to different ways of thinking, introduced me to ways of seeing and suggested a network of like-minded-souls to explore. Without them I would have remained a creative island relying only upon my own beliefs to make work of relevance to the creative industries today. I often use the metaphor of a glass of milk to explain why this is not a good way to go.
Imagine that we are all born with the same glass of milk next to us to sip from whenever we are given a creative challenge. As we go through life we sip from that glass to give us inspiration in whatever task we take on. As time goes by the milk disappears, and eventually the glass will be empty. Unless of course we refill the glass as we go, if we do this glass will always be able to satisfy our needs. The glass of milk is inspiration and it needs to be refreshed.
Heroes can help with that inspiration. If Dylan sings of Ezra Pound and TS Elliot, as he did, I am introduced to these writers and an inquisitive nature, something all creatives must have, leads me to find out more. The inspiration for others becomes the inspiration for me in a form of creative baton passing.
My concern today is that the idea of having heroes seems to have gained negative connotations for some and no relevance to others. Some seem to see it as a sense of idolatry that is out of touch with times, younger people seem to have no interest in looking at the lives, work and practices of others to inform their own. I cannot see the sense in either of these positions.
I do not look at my heroes as idols or as specimens of perfection. I do not look at their personal lives and make subjective judgements or divorce their life decisions from the times they lived in. I take inspiration from the work they made and their approach to that work. How they broke established moulds and embraced the past. How they resonated with their audience without pandering to it. The essence of the rebel appeals to me.
I find it difficult to understand people who do not have heroes. Maybe that’s just me, but if you don’t, or if you think I am wrong in having so many please tell me where you get your inspiration from, where do you find out about people creating work that will inform yours, how do you refill your glass of milk!
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