A question often asked of artists and anyone working in the creative field centres around inspiration: where does our inspiration come from? What is driving the creative spirit? What are the influences that shape my work? Creative professions can’t be forced, you can’t simply do it for the pay-check. Your heart and soul drives the success, and the foundation of this needs to centre from your inspiration in your chosen medium.
So what inspired me to become a photographer?
Bonaparte at the Pont d’Arcole (in French, ‘Bonaparte au Pont d’Arcole) is a 1796 painting by Antoine-Jean Gros
“History and art were my passion, the centre of all my interests, I never even contemplated becoming a photographer. My main ambition during my formative years was to become a Lecturer of History. Social change, conflict and political ideology fascinated me from an early age, and that interest still remains.”
I’m old enough to not care to admitting it, but I wasn’t your average teenage boy. I wasn’t one to be found living out a run-of-the-mill teenage angst fuelled rebellion, I probably bewildered the teenage cultural stereotype by being found reading Des Kapital and the Memoires de Napoleon. I didn’t sneak out to chase girls, but I did have a secret passion for medieval castles and cathedrals. Yes, I was a geek. I knew more about Napoleon than I did about fashion, more about Lenin than I did about girls, and at that stage, certainly nothing about Aperture Priority or Depth of Field.
As my final school years approached I had another thought starting to form in my mind: medicine. I fed my geeky nature and studied diligently to gain a place at Cambridge University, no doubt still lusting after the historical and socio-political architecture and experience that would provide. However, it soon became apparent that my heart wasn’t in medicine. Rather than studying diagrams of anatomy, I was still found with my nose stuck in a book reading about the Crusades and the Norman Conquest.
This led me to Kings College London and the History Degree that would feed my passion and drive and ultimately add to the foundations of my career as a Portrait Photographer. Now pursuing my passion with unbounded enthusiasm, I could easily while away the hours in the British Library and Public Record Office, yet still call it study.
About the same time I began to tinker with photography. We were at the dawn of the digital camera age, and it was easy to grab my camera and go wherever I went, snapping buildings, artwork, landscapes, and anything that interested me. I was building a portfolio in my mind, a shaping and filing system of creative influence. I started to build a bridge from the image portrayal of history and the books and records, and I decided to take a supplementary course in Film History at Kings. Now my mental drawing board was fuelled as I discovered a love of German Expressionism at the beginning of Film Noir, fed by seeing Metropolis, Nosferatu, and the Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
I became awed by what I saw and learned. Metropolis features special effects and set designs that still impress modern audiences today, renowned for their visual impact. The Maschinenmensch, the robot character played by Brigitte Helm, is iconic. The visual effects and set design combined with the themes of class division and poverty began to ignite the socio-history enthusiast inside me. The natural step was to explore my own record-making ability through the easily accessible photography. I had a hunger to not just become a vessel for absorbing this information and cultural impact, but to pursue combining this knowledge and exposure with my creative side.
As many students know all too well, passion and reality tend to hit a brick wall where finances are concerned. To plug this gap I was working weekends at an electrical shop and within a very short time I was the Resident Gadget Freak. On slow days I had a ready-made playground to explore: the latest computer and camera equipment. I was allowed to borrow cameras and start to practice techniques.
In a bid to bring in the pennies I ultimately used my natural and hard-earned photography reputation to shoot fashion pictures. In April 2004 I found myself stopped in my tracks when I spotted the cover of Digital Photographer magazine, a striking image that ultimately drew me to start creating some breath-taking portraits and beauty portraits of my own. The photograph was by Italian photographer Eolo Perfido and there came my link to Portraiture.
Copyright Eolo Perfido Digital Photographer Magazine April 2004
I began to study the works of other portrait photographers: Yousuf Karsh, Eve Arnold, and Cecil Beaton to name a few. I found myself learning and developing by assisting professional photographers. I began to learn lighting techniques and direction. I quickly became capable of being able to set up shoots on my own. I built this confidence by trying things out on friends, and with my self-esteem boosted, I felt ready to approach a model agency. My nerves were quickly allayed when I discovered they liked what they saw, and I now had a new avenue to set up test shoots with their new faces.
The bridge was nearly complete, I was now living my foremost passion: photography. I finished University proud of my degree and ready to develop my career. Word was getting out: people liked my work. I began to get commissions, typically to begin with from individuals needing portraits, and then models requiring portfolios. Word spread and I started getting commissions from larger businesses needing advertising and campaign photography. I built on my success, and in 2007 started my own Photography Studio, a home-ground on which to develop my skills and work with clients both locally and nationally.
The last connection of the bridge came as I was in a position to be able to combine my love of history and socio-political forces with my creative outlet of Portrait Photography. Finally I was fully true to the teenage history buff and gadget freak, comfortable in my own skin and able to display my creative with these firm foundations of inspiration.
As for now I try to remain true to my inspiration and my passion. I don’t follow many photography blogs, however cinema stills influences my work and lighting techniques. Magazines like Dazed and Confused, POP, ID and Vogue inspire me to start new projects. I still sling a camera in my bag wherever I go, ready to click and record a moment of inspiration for my ever-growing mental portfolio.
For newcomers looking to develop as Photographers, your inspiration will show in your work. It becomes the heart of all you produce. Remain true to yourself and you’ll develop the inspiration in a naturally creative and building-block way. Established photographers are ideal buddies to learn from, enabling you to self-reflect and find your photographic niche, whether that be Portraiture, Fashion, Landscapes or Fine Art.
Inspiration is the key to creative development: I hope mine is reflected in all shoots I undertake.