At the time I moved from the USA to London in 2000, I was beginning to rediscover photography after a trip to the arctic circle where I exposed a few frames of E6 slide film to get a green smudge of the aurora borealis. For the first time, I sought out other photographer artists and I was lucky to find an enthusiastic group not far from where I lived.
The people I got to know were wonderful, but I found it hard to connect with their imagery. The images were generally dark, monochrome, grainy shadows.
Then came a new member from India and he shared his colourful Indian sari and festival images. When the others presented he exclaimed, “the English are afraid of colour and sex!” He never came again.
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For me, I was still gaining something. I didn’t realise it, but I was wanting to give and receive constructive feedback. That seemed to happen there until I commented on one of the old masters’ photos about cropping something different. “If he wanted to frame it that way, he would have” a defensive answer came from an older apprentice at the table. I kept my critiques to private conversations and was grateful to receive suggestions — one was very simple but useful. “Your pictures are good. Wouldn’t they be so much better if you did this?” as he rotated my print 2 degrees. How could I have not seen that! All of my images were at a slightly annoying angle — I can’t believe I never saw that! To this day, I make a point of trying to keep the horizon flat.
Sometime later when I moved home, I stopped going to the group. While I loved the people, I thought they were just a tad too “artsy” for me. I moved back into travel photography, adding a little colourful wildlife into the mix. Eventually, a desire for smaller kit led me to drift towards the Leica and I was hooked when the M9 came out. Today I shoot nearly exclusively on a Leica M10. For this project, the lenses are a pre-ASPH Leica 50mm Summilux and a Voigtländer 75mm. As for the feedback, it was still hard to find, but perhaps that is one of the things that guided me into executive coaching —being coached and then becoming certified to work with others.
And I was back in the early days of the digital rangefinder again. The new system made things exciting to re-learn. I could participate in the Leica User Forum, join the Leica Society and read Macfilos. I bought Leica magazines and books. Then I saw the pattern again.
So much of the Leica imagery was composed of grainy black and white images of war, poverty and vanquished boxers. It was cool and macho at first, but it was a box on what could be done. It was time to fight in another direction in this new world. It would be a moment with those who fight for fun!
This series of images represents that break into a more colourful place. Outside of their arenas, I found these sport fighters have a sense of grace not often on display. They also have deep moments of reflection on their sport. Perhaps that was just their warm-up routines.
Most participants in this series are authentic athletes.
Well, maybe not all. Headshot photographer Nick Gregan saw me testing the lighting and asked if I would pose for his vintage sports series as a boxer. Despite having advised Nick I was not of typical boxer build, I did agree to pose for the shoot. Nick hired the outfit for an early Edwardian street fighter.
As a photographer, being on the other side of the camera was educational and refreshing. As he says:
The idea behind the Edwardian boxer shot of Dan was for it to be part of a bigger personal project (more on this later) about vintage sports. I had a particular vision in my mind of how I wanted the final photo to look – as though it might have been a discovery of an actual old photo.
One of the things I love about photography is that it is fun, in so much that you get to meet really interesting people, get to know them and then if you are lucky (good at your job) you get them to fully partake in the show and express true emotion.
As a working photographer of over 25 years, by that I mean earning a full-time living from my work, I found it odd that I should take photos for my pleasure. It wasn’t until I joined The Camera Club and met many talented amateur photographers taking photos for the ‘love of it’ that I thought I should shoot some pictures for myself.
Thinking about a personal project and what I wanted to shoot I came up with vintage sportsmen. When planning a personal project I believe it’s important to have a theme so the photographs work together. I chose the boxer as the first shot primarily because of my childhood times spent as an amateur boxer and the desire to devour as much information about the sport as possible, which included looking at hundreds of photos of famous old boxers. I wanted to widen the scope of this project to a more broader, vintage sportsmen category. I found those images of old sportsmen, evocative, interesting and captivating.
Shooting this project made me step out of my comfort zone and shoot more creatively, using technical processes that I wouldn’t normally use in my day to day working life. Challenging yourself as a photographer is the only way to grow as a photographer. The creative muscle is like any other, if you work it hard and practice using it, it’ll become stronger and more easily accessible.
And the best part of this project is that it has impacted on my normal work, helping me to ‘see’ differently and improve the service I give to my paying clients. I’ve had so much fun shooting this project that I already have 2 more projects I’m keen to get started on.
It takes an effort to work in time to plan and shoot your own images and when you’ve done so I believe it’s essential to show others your work. This is why I tell everyone who attends any of my groups ‘have an exhibition’. It is hard work but it is one of the most wonderful feelings I’ve ever had. A good crowd, admiring and discussing your work is a wonderful feeling and selling photos (if you want to) is a huge recognition of your love and passion for photography.
This year I’ve started to notice colour being used in those magazines and I’ve re-joined the artsy photography group. I’ve become a bit more artsy, they’ve become a bit more fun.
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