The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.
I feel this is such an accurate quote and certainly helps describe ones role as a photographer on so frequent an occasion. I consider all the events that I shoot and the different worlds that I inhabit as a photographer. I can find myself being responsible for recording very momentous life changing moments for private individuals and then of course important events for corporate clients in all fields of business. I have to move between the film industry, the fashion industry, the world of finance and commerce, the world of politics, journalism and of course immerse myself in the art world. My clients come from all countries, cultures, religions and backgrounds. Some extremely wealthy and then some not so. Some born into wealth and some discovering newfound wealth. Royalty, aristocrats, oligarchs, lottery winners, politicians, artists, gangsters and crooks (not really but it sounded good), bankers (oh…see I knew I shot for some gangsters and crooks) and more.
I need to be the chameleon and judge situations and negotiate amongst all manner of people. Instructing the royal family is always very strange. I cant say I have told members of the royal family what to do ever, its more a case of gentle suggestions as to what may improve the image. Some clients and people I shoot (love that word-shoot) I respect immensely and then some not so. Sometimes they are famous and household names and I am spending a day with them on set. I need to always find the right balance whatever the job and be able to mix in and achieve my own goals. Of course none of this can be taught at college and this comes with life experience and of course a natural born skill and your own upbringing. There is no doubt that my childhood spent travelling the world and living on many continents has given me such skills that have enabled me to move between so many different cultures, religious groups, and clients. Now I certainly don’t always get it right and have sure said some really dumb stuff in front of some very important, influential people. I’ve never been chucked off a shoot but for sure I know I’ve messed up and not been invited back. As I’ve been shooting for magazines since reasonably young and early in my career I was bound to perhaps not exactly get it right every time. A certain youthful exuberance perhaps. I have a few stories that I feel should not be shared here. I recall the time I was summoned to the office of Tatler’s somewhat imposing editor in the late 90’s. I sat outside her office feeling glum like a naughty schoolboy and pondered how this felt no different to being back at boarding school and being told to go and see the headmaster (I wish I had worn shorts, muddied my knees and had a conker on a string with me!). Sadly I can’t tell you what naughtiness I was involved in that meant I had to go and see the editor. I always ponder how fashion photographers can get away with being a little bad and punkish …loveable rogues but oh so creative and yet other snappers not so. But overall I feel I have managed to move well between all the different worlds that my work takes me to. Its impossible to not get involved often as you act in such a way to initiate a response form your subjects. There are some social photographers who remain completely silent and shoot from the boundaries with long lenses. I call them wild life social photographers. Its great for so many shots to remain candid as such but I also know that so many great images come from interaction and the ability to stimulate a reaction and help create energy and then that energy comes back and is caught on camera.
As Susan Meisalas correctly describes you do need to have a point of connection in order to be accepted. I feel many clients choose a photographer based on a feeling that the photographer will essentially fit in and be part of the event. Not someone that will stand out, draw attention and be an embarrassment. Someone that is ‘one of us’ essentially. I feel that when it comes to social photography people will also often choose a photographer that covers other weddings and parties that are hosted by similar people to them. So if your photographer works in a similar social set then he or she is good enough for you. There is the British class distinction in play essentially. People appear to work within a set that they certainly feel comfortable within. And the need to connect I understand can be made more easily when you are comfortable with your subjects and essentially fit in.
But Susan Meisalas points out the need to also find a point of separation. So you are looking at your subjects with fresh eyes and are curious and even amazed at their behaviour. You are so shocked and fascinated by what is happening around you that you feel compelled to record it. Only by feeling as such will you desire to capture unique moments that stand out and appear fascinating and revealing. If you were so immersed and over comfortable within the crowd you may not actually find anything that strikes you as photo worthy. Nothing that stood out to pique your curiosity perhaps. I do hope that I strike the right balance of fitting in and then also being separated enough to look at my subjects with some subjectivity and curiosity and see elements, happenings and moments that I find interesting enough to record.
I was asked to record the celebrations of another Uppingham School party. I have shot numerous events for this wonderful school and as the jobs become more regular so does my understanding of the guests and familiarity build. I know many guests now and what to expect from them and how to approach photographing them. There is one old boy who hates having his photo taken. At first he used to recline in horror when he saw me and now we joke and laugh when we see each other. I remind him I’m aware he loathes having his photo taken and thus will leave him alone. Then there are the younger guests and I know which ones I can rely on to provide some hilarious moments and comedy action. I feed off their humour and laughter and always leave Uppingham School events much happier and with a big grin on my face. I am on good terms with the hotel manager, the school staff and the headmaster has the grace and good nature to even mention my name in his speech, which had me blushing and bowing with amazement. He declared that they are delighted to have me there that evening as I manage to make them look so good. Or something along those lines. Have to say that really touched me and it’s a rare thing. Moments such as that make me feel simply wonderful and so respected!
As ever trying to get the balance of connection and separation!