Photographers talk about their commitment but I have never met one who has lived commitment with such single minded ferocity as Josef Koudelka. The perfection of his pictures is not only a product of immense talent but the result of thousands of hours of harshly critical examination of his own contacts and a fierce determination to sacrifice every aspect of a personal life towards the final photograph.
A few years ago I took a long break from my photography. I have mixed feelings about this and how it’s affected my life and career. I’m trying not to dwell on it for too long as that’s wasted time and energy. And of course I can’t change what is done. So many factors contributed to me needing to take this period away from what has been everything to me for pretty much my entire life. My love and passion for photography has certainly shaped me as a person and I feel more connected and committed now than ever before. But incredibly life events had got to such a point where I didn’t actually see a future in photography anymore. So a period stepping away was inevitable and although I was not completely off the work radar I had certainly shelved many plans, hopes and dreams. Little did I know the time away was crucial to cementing my future as a photographer. What I thought would take me on a new journey further away from photography was actually bringing me eventually even closer to it. I just needed that break and time away. I feel much of my life is about experiencing something that I never ever expected I would happen. I can try to forsee things that will happen based on my history, character and personality but I have to simply accept that there are twists and turns that I can never predict. Whether its my personal life or my career which of course are actually incredibly aligned and connected, so much has happened that has shocked me and amazed me. I keep diaries and read them back from time to time. Often a few pages before I fall asleep and I cant quite believe what I got up to and the things that I have done and experienced. For sure I have led a very full and interesting life and there is no doubt that photography has helped shape and create such opportunities. As my photography is so much more than just a job but is the very fabric of my life and existence there is no surprise it’s been not only connected but also very fulfilling.
So really in hindsight it was foolish to think that I would step away completely from photography those few years back. It was essential for sure and in that time I sort of made peace with the issues that affected me and I began to understand myself and the photography industry more. So after a break of a few years I jumped back in and here I am. It’s not been easy and I’ve got much to do to truly feel like I’m back again but for sure I feel ambitious and connected. I consider the quote above, Koudelka’s fierce determination to sacrifice every aspect of his personal life towards the final photograph. Well I am working in a very different field to Koudelka and our lives are so strikingly different. I can imagine the sort of intense photographer he must have been and for sure he must have been so utterly committed. I don’t feel the same way as such but as I look back on my life for sure there have been sacrifices and my photography has been at the forefront of all I do. I also reflect of many of my photographer buddies who in their own ways have struggled to stay afloat and the sacrifices they have made in their personal lives and relationships to make a successful photography career work.
I often wonder whether even now I could apply that single minded ferocity that Bill Jay describes above. I feel perhaps there is almost a romantic image of the suffering artists who is so completely focused on his/her goal and nothing can stand in their way. Am I too comfortable and have softened to feel that edge now I wonder? I work hard of course but I cannot describe my mind set as being similar to Koudelka right now. I sometimes consider perhaps that I was like that when younger and so many knock backs have dulled that spirit and energy. All creative people encounter rejection and things going wrong and dreams challenged by reality and life’s struggles. I also ponder the drive behind different photographer and what their motivation might be. Koudelkas is famous for his powerful images of the gypsies in Romania and the invasion of Prague by the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Overseas Press Clubs Robert Capa Medal and eventually became a Magnum photographer. There is no doubt that he is utterly driven and committed and lives and breathes a passion for political reportage and documentary photography that is a far cry from my commercial endeavours. I did in fact study and complete my degree in photography at Farnham, West Surrey College of Art and Design, which is famous for its documentary photography. One of my freelance tutors was the celebrated Martin Parr amongst others. As part of my coursework I completed numerous projects that were concerned with issues and peoples lives. I learnt about other great reportage photographers and their craft and how I could apply that to my own work. But I knew that was not the life for me and eventually moved into editorial portraiture and fashion. But my love and respect for such photography is still very much alive and now as I write this blog there is a large part of me that is envious of the dedication and passion that such great photographers have.
The passion and commitment that Koudelka clearly shows is essential for any artist to succeed. I was recently asked by the Contemporary Art Society to photograph an evening dedicated to celebrating the work of Do Ho Suh at The Victoria Miro Gallery in Old St. The evening was hosted by Emily Sun and Anna Yang. Admittedly I know little of Do Ho Suh’s work and lacked time to research his background. But for sure when I met him I sensed a man who was clearly dedicated and passionate about his art. I enjoy shooting gallery openings and see it like many jobs as a real challenge to capture wonderful moments in a simple white space. Using the architecture, light and guests to create and reveal striking images. It’s not easy to do this and much of the time the client is happy with straightforward headshots and full-length images. But the fantastic architecture of the gallery and the colourful outfits of many of the Korean guests all helped me to find some good images that I hope made this collection stand out. I cant say that I approached this event with the same single minded passion and determined creativity as Koudelka and Do Ho Suh might with their art but I certainly am focused and as creative as I can be. I may not be creating memorable art but I am diligent and professional and love my job.