Photography with a Purpose

Last week I visited an exhibition, History through a Lens: Iconic Photographs from the Incite Project. It got me thinking about the purpose of photography; The photographs on display are extremely evocative, taken by some of the greats in reportage and therefore worth a visit (if you're anywhere near Bath!). It was refreshing to see actual prints, in the flesh as it were. I know these things are supposed to inspire , but I always leave with a feeling that my own photography is inadequate. I'm not talking about my Portrait or Wedding work, I'm always confident in that, it's my Street Photography I have problem with. Anyway, here's a shot with the back of someones head looking at a "proper" photograph - 

A  photo of someone looking at a proper photo!

There needs to be a purpose for a photograph, it needs to convey a feeling or tell a story. However, we can't all be shooting in war zones, with cameras not guns, naturally. We need to look at alternatives, Street Photography absolutley fascinates me, but photos of the back of peoples heads, someone simply walking along, using their mobile phone, or smoking don't really cut it. Not entirely sure that I'm a huge fan of people emerging from dark tunnels or walking across Zebra Crossings either, unless it the Beatles Abbey Road album cover! I suppose we could argue that there is some graphical element in those last two at least. I take shots along these lines all the time for some inexplicable reason, yet I know they don't really work, here's a few examples -

One subject matter I've made a rule not to shoot is the Homeless, they're vulnerable and easy targets, I see no purpose in it. Some will say they've spoken to them initially, had a chat, highlighting their plight. Big deal, they've got permission from someone who probably isn't aware of which day of the week it is. I know someone who runs a homeless charity, this is what he said to me about photographers - That homeless person they're snapping has a family who might be totally unaware of their current situation, they could have told them they're working away for example, imagine the shock when they see a photo of their husband/father/brother/son on social media, sleeping rough, dishevelled in a shop doorway and worse, a comment below of "nice shot mate, voted".

Slightly off subject here, but I've been asked on numerous occasions why I no longer contribute to photography platforms and I may as well get it out of the way; To photograph purely to gain "likes" on Instagram, 500px etc, can't help anyone grow can it? Early last year 500px decided to choose me as one of their "Recommended Photographers", at the time I had around 1,800 followers, at a flick of a switch (or whatever they did) I gained an additional 96,000! I deleted that account and any other profiles that were "like" based last year. No grand statements of departure only to appear again the following week, just deleted them all. Photography shouldn't be a competition, nor should it be about "likes" in my opinion. We should be capturing images for ourselves. You can at least say you knew someone who had 97,000 followers and yet still walked away! I totally understand why many participate, inherently with photography there's a need to show our work and that's a very valid reason, but with some it's a drug - perhaps they need praise on a daily basis, so desperate for attention some even turn to trolling to draw the spotlight on to themselves. Don't get me wrong, I used to enjoy photography platforms, I've met some truly wonderful and kind people on them. I'm not saying whether it's right or wrong, simply a decision I made for me.

If you're hired for a portrait session, a wedding or fortunate enough to receive a commission then you have purpose. What do we do when we don't have these? Well, it needs to be a project of some kind. A series that is linked in a way that may possibly be much more interesting than the single "glory shot". This could be carried out over any length of time, it might take 10 years to complete. I have one obvious project running which is documenting my children and family. Great, it's someone that you know well and they are accustomed to a lens being pointed at them. Yes, it's the same subject matter, but you find more and more ways in which to shoot them, refining the way you work and that ultimately helps when you're shooting others. I tried a collaborative project with a group of photographers recently, but sadly it didn't work out. So, I need another and I've chosen "Shopfronts". If I'm out and about it should prove fairly easy to accomplish, whether it's any good only time will tell and I hope it will serve some purpose. I'll put up a new page for this project, obviously it will be defined and adjusted as we go along. I'm going to present them all in colour (who knew!), which could be a challenge. Perhaps in many years from now they might become of interest as people look back at when we had "actual" shops! To finish here's a few examples on the shopfront theme that I took in Bristol yesterday -

Many thanks for taking a look at the blog. As always I'd be delighted to read and respond to any comments.

All photos were taken using a Leica M fitted with 35mm Summicron Lens.