Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say We have done this ourselves
As a young photographer learning the ‘craft’ was not about sitting in a classroom taking in facts, comparing oneself to others, and straining to meet the expectations of a system-guided-scorecard. The right composition, the right camera technique, correct processing the ability to talk to the theory of lighting, exposure, physics, lens design and meeting the necessary passing marks to gain a qualification. Add interminable hours of Occupational Health and Safety issues these days.
My journey, at least in the main, was through a series of tutors, some of which paid me to clean the studio, others that I paid in my own time, to learn from, and a few that with hindsight was simply wasted time.
I press the shutter on the camera standing on the shoulders of great ones who have gone before me.
We are, I fear, accustomed to ‘doing the hard yards’ over the books, and that will lead to ‘success’ in the field.
The wonderful mentors that I had the opportunity to ‘disciple’ with, were not so much interested in teaching facts, theory, or even skillsets. They thought of it more of what it means to make me a better photographer. Teaching to them was not so I could learn ‘stuff’, but what it would make of my craft. Learning to calculate depth of field,(DOF) and doing it on the back of a napkin, does not mean I can transpose that into a photograph sometime in the future. Say, with a 180mm lens on a 4×5 Linhof Technika with a subject at 5m, gives a DOF of 31mm in front, and 35mm behind the subject. But what the great ones wanted to know is how does that affect the end result of the photograph. Knowing the theory becomes very much a, “So what is the use of it”.
If all the teacher could impart was that I needed to do was get the exposure right for the highlights, or process the print for the ultimate rich black, or hold the shadows to allow the form to show, then it leads more to despair than growth. What if I fail the test?
Setting tests for what I know, only separates me from the subject. The story. The involvement. The message that the viewer should take away.
What I end up with is a carbon copy of what my instructor would have done. True mentors fire the inspiration within me, looking not only to what I have just experienced, but all that I have yet to be.
Someone once said, of 20 years in a business, “Have you had 20 years of growing and honing your craft, or have you just had One year Twenty times over?”
It is not meant to teach us something, but to make us something. The classroom may fill with useful knowledge, but it’s out in the field when all that stands behind us as a foundation, where we humbly struggle with the story of our subject in front of our lens that true mentorship is rewarded.
Addendum, because every Melburnian needs a Laugh