I arrived home both exhausted and buzzing on Sunday night. I had just attended a weekend long photography workshop at the National Portrait Gallery, under the guidance of Graeme Robertson, a multi award winning photojournalist who works for The Guardian newspaper and whose recent personal project on blind children in Africa and India has earned him a place in the current Taylor Wessing portrait exhibition at the gallery. Graeme doesn’t pull his punches and our small group, comprising both enthusiasts and professionals, found ourselves constantly drilled in the importance of mastering good camera technique.
With photography, as with anything, we build up habits and develop routines. I have been taking photographs for years and I fall back on techniques that on the whole work for me in most situations. But are they the best for every given situation? Rather like having your golf swing or tennis serve picked apart and then reconstructed, it’s a bit disconcerting to have your comfortable old ways torn up - the tendency is to resist but persevere and your game ultimately improves.
Someone who deals with the caprice of celebrities and politicians and who has covered conflict in the Middle East wasn’t going to let us sit around in our mental comfort zones either. We were duly pitched out into neighbouring Trafalgar Square for an hour of street photography. I learned a couple of lessons from this experience. Firstly, dealing with complete strangers is a great leveller - I have to admit to feeling a little awkward behind the camera. There was no hiding, all the pictures shown here have no crop and were taken with a 50mm lens, which meant that a close portrait shot needed to be taken from about three or four feet. Secondly, I realise I probably wouldn’t make the best news photographer yet; call it force of habit again, from years of photographing children maybe, but I found my tendency was to intervene rather than letting events unfold.
However, one observation that struck me was the general acceptance of photography. It was a beautiful winter day, for sure, and Trafalgar Square, with its street performers and perched Yodas, can engender a carnival like atmosphere on occasion. Nevertheless, regardless of age, background, ethnicity, everyone seemed reasonably relaxed at the prospect of being photographed. Indeed most people were photographing themselves anyway. Such is the prevalence of the medium now.
So, have I come away a better photographer? It will take a more serious project to find out but I feel a little bit sharper on the technicalities and a little bit more sympathetic to the person on the other side of the lens. However, the great thing I get out of photography is that there is no end to the learning and no end to the experiences you can build.
And as a post script, thank you to my subjects, wherever you are and whether you knew you were being photographed or not ;-)