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7th May 2014 - What makes a good photographer

‘Looking at Photographs’ was the title of Teignmouth’s Ken Holland’s recent presentation – a title which seems be more obvious than helpful. After all, when a photograph is made then it is there to be looked at so why even say it? But the title was a way into a fascinating exposition of how to appraise the pictures we take and how they can communicate with a wider audience. Who better than Ken with years of photographic experience, qualifications and a portfolio of excellent images to explain that making a photographic image is not about something technical but ‘an expression of what one feels’.
Although Ken is a distinguished photographic judge he was keen to point out that judges don’t always get it right. He showed this by explaining how several of his images had got nowhere with some judges only to be prize-winners with others. One such example was a great portrait titled ‘Laughing Eyes’, where only the top half of the model’s head was pictured. Despite the photographer’s intention being clear and the title something of a guide, the judges thought it a shame that the whole of the girl’s head was not shown. Ken went on to point out that this kind of dismissal should be ignored if you believe in the strength and message of an image. If it fails first time than try it again elsewhere where the reception may be totally different.
His talk was illustrated by many quotes from world famous photographers about just what the photographic image was about. Some of the best emphasised that the camera is just a box and as Don McCullin said ‘Cameras are just tools to do a job. The real camera is me’.
There were many important messages for amateur photographers in this talk and probably none more important than Ken’s advice to leave an image for a while after creating it so that when you return to it you see it in a fresh light which may make you aware of some of its aspects that you had not critiqued before.
Ken’s view was that what makes a good photographer was ‘curiosity and a sense of form’ something borne out by his own images. He believes that some images work better as part of a set as they bring out the full intention of the photographer. He showed this in in-depth work devoted to subjects such as windows, shadows and people on the move where the whole group of images tell the complete story. Even so many of Ken’s individual images were greatly appreciated as they contained the unexpected such as the cat with glowing eyes which mysteriously appeared in a photo shoot of railings and shadows or the dog whose head popped out of a window that Ken was photographing and thus completing the story, or the monochrome shot of various sizes of underwear drying on a line in idyllic rural France.
Concluding with the advice to take photographs for yourself and not to be frightened of breaking so-called photographic rules, Ken wrapped up a highly entertaining evening that will have inspired many to look at photographs in a fresh way.