I know that the title of this article may be considered by some to be confrontational and to some a blasphemous statement, but it is not clickbait. It is I think a serious suggestion. I have previously written about my feelings concerning analogue and darkroom practice. It’s fine but it’s not essential. Photographers of a certain age may have an emotional attachment to both and younger photographers may think analogue is ‘cool’ but they are not in my view essential in learning how to make images of value. Not just financial value but personal value.
I recently saw a photographer state that education was not required to be creative. Teaching the technical skills were important he claimed, but nothing else was! I couldn’t believe such a level of ignorance or arrogance. He stated that Tom Waits, Shane McGowan and John Lyon had never studied music and it had never stopped them! Interestingly, Waits attended Chula Vista’s Southwestern Community College to study photography. Obviously the photographer was not aware of this particular hole in his argument!
The point is of course that what this photographer seems to misunderstand is that the study of anything and everything can feed into photography.
Appropriate and relevant photographic education understands this. Knowledge of how to use a camera is essential as is a basic knowledge of additional lighting and post-production but the depth of your knowledge of any of these elements does not define the success of your images. In time you will garner further information but this will be on a need-to-know basis not as a tsunami of technical facts.
Photography is reliant on a technical device and it has a tendency to draw in the technically inclined and engaged, but creativity is not reliant on technical proficiency. In fact it should disrupt technical proficiency, challenge the machines and push previously conceived rules.
Recently on the social media platform Threads there has been a tendency for photographers to post images of their cameras and argue over the pros and cons of retouching analogue images. Defining themselves as film photographers as a badge of honour and to identify themselves as ‘true’ photographers. I think! In response others have been proclaiming that cameras don’t matter and that process is all. Of course neither stance is an absolute.
Personally I don’t mind which position you adopt as long as you don’t present technical proficiency or interest as barriers to exploring photographic creativity. They are not and that is a good thing. Photography is not easier today than it once was, it is just less technical. The difficulty comes from defining a personal language, developing consistency of practice, telling the stories that mean something to you and if you wish to earn money from your photography understanding how to do that. I think that is enough for anyone to deal with!
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.
Scott’s next book is Inside Vogue House: One building, seven magazines, sixty years of stories, Orphans Publishing, is on sale February 2024.
© Grant Scott 2023