I was speaking with a photographer the other day who explained to me that her answer to this question was both. Yesterday I spoke with someone who explained how their father connected with the medium based on the later. I know many photographers who would lean towards the former. Others are vociferous in stating that you cannot be a photographer without a heavy dose of the later.
My personal connection has an element of the former but none of the later, however I maybe unusual in this. Such conversations are important in understanding our own beliefs and instigations. I started to think about my connection with photography and settled on the idea of meeting people. That is my connection with the medium. Of course I am interested in the final results, that they have some aesthetic qualities that appeal to me, that they meet some form of primeval urge I may have to express myself creatively. However, this is not my driver within photography.
I do not feel a need to be creative over a need to communicate.
This may seem strange for someone who has studied at art school, teaches photography at university and whom has spent the last forty years working with and as a creative, but my creativity does not exist within a vacuum. It is a means to an end just as photography is the tool, the instrument I use to achieve that end.
The technical is of no interest to me. I have no interest in cameras, in digital trickery, darkroom mastery, lenses, styles or fashions in photography. I have no time for labels, pigeon holes or genres. I do have time for conversation, listening and storytelling. That does not make me a documentary photographer, a social documentary photographer, a portrait photographer or any other description that some may choose to plaster onto my work. I am a photographer, plain and simple.
There is nothing wrong in seeing creativity or process and kit as your drivers, your connectors with the medium. We are all different, and that is how it should be, however that difference is not always appreciated. I am no lesser a photographer than someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of process or a stratospheric creative passion. I have a little of each, just enough to enable me to do what I want to do. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less but I am good with that. I am not in a competition and neither should you be.
A leaning too far in each direction can create a creative imbalance that results in dull, repetitive, generic work or self-indulgent images that fail to connect with any audience other than that of the creator. Balance is always good. Master your tolls but don’t be controlled by them, develop your creativity but do not be consumed by it.
However, you connected with photography I expect that the initial reason has evolved, it may still be there but it will probably have been added to, grown, mutated into a fuller and richer understanding to support you through the trials and tribulations of working as a photographer. If it has not I will suggest that it would, could or should have done.
The two conversations I had recently made me consider the three questions in the title of this article, I hope that what I have written has had a similar affect on you. If not, no problem but think twice before falling into a trap of thinking that different approaches and views concerning the medium should be based on a right or wrong answer. I am not giving answers here, just posing questions.
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 2023