It was an ambitious title – ‘On Photography’! Whole books, whole courses and whole careers have been devoted to uncovering the different facets of photography. Tonight’s speaker, Mike Farley LRPS, drew on a lifetime of engagement with photography as a hobby and his knowledge, expertise and enjoyment strongly shone through. He is a near neighbour – currently chair of Croydon Camera Club.
When asked about his presentation, Mike said: ‘Of all my presentations, this is the most personal as I speak about my own motivations and challenges in my approach to photography. The idea is to encourage the audience to think about their interests and reasons for participating in photography. The reason I created the lecture is that this is an aspect of our craft that does not get talked about much and I now know why. It took several years of reflection and more hours of writing than I could have imagined at the outset.’
One of the key things about photography, he said, was that you should have fun. You should discover your preferences and enjoy what you’re doing. If you start dreading entering competitions, because you get so dispirited or angry at what judges say, take a break from competitions. Ultimately, as amateur photographers, we are shooting for ourselves, not just to please others. Though, of course, if we are keen to make other people think that we’re good photographers we should only show them our best images!
Illuminating quotes peppered the presentation, from people reflecting on photography at various stages in its history, including David Hockney’s controversial observation that: ‘I’ve finally figured out what’s wrong with photography. It’s a one-eyed man looking through a little ‘ole. Now, how much reality can there be in that?’ Of course, Hockney was mistaken – not just in terms of gender-stereotyping of photographers, but also in casting aspersions on photography’s relationship with reality. As Mike pointed out, one definition of a photographer is ‘someone wanting to show the world as they see it’ – at least in terms of their ‘reality’. I liked the way in which Mike didn’t prescribe ‘What is a photographer’ and gave us different suggestions, so that we could make up our own minds – such as, ‘someone who waits for the light’ and ‘someone who instinctively looks for photographs, even without a camera’.
Many will have appreciated the candour and honesty with which Mike described the difficulties that sometimes haunt photographers, himself included, such as ‘bad days’ and ‘fallow periods’. He encouraged us not to stress and to accept that some days are definitely better than others, in terms of our photography. Good photos often rely on chance and complete originality is well nigh impossible. Self-doubt is normal and we need to face up honestly to times of discouragement and recognise our need to reflect and periodically take stock. One way, he suggested, of restimulating our interest in photography is to try out a new technique. Personally, he had enjoyed experimenting with ‘Day Night Exposure’ – taking long exposures at night that initially look as if they have been taken in daylight, but on closer inspection reveal a star-lit sky. If you want to try this technique out yourself, try using ISO 800, f4, 30 seconds, a tripod, a dark sky and clear sky and moonlight.
Mike began his talk by showing a variety of his own images, covering a variety of genres, and later concluded his talk by again showcasing some of his images – this time to demonstrate how others have varied in their perception of his images.
This was a very thought-provoking evening. Mike had distilled his long experience of photography and had done what he was encouraging us to do: take stock of where you are now, understand what motivates you, discover the joys of photography and find out how you can keep developing as a photographer.