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I’ve studied as a filmmaker, writer, musician and photographer (I’ve only successfully made money out of one of those, but other pursuits have got me a lot of free beer) and to cut it really short – there’s a lot of ways to find your voice. But as a multidisciplinary  artist I think I’m getting to grips with where that elusive voice / style / creative muse likes to hide out. So here are my pointers (along with some quotes that go off on tangents but get your mind moving in the right direction).

Make a lot of (bad) work

Henri Cartier Bresson famously said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”. But feeling free to explore and make mistakes should be a continuous progression. If we stop pushing and experimenting when we get good, we never become great.

So this means getting out and making work and being open to failing as often as possible. I truly believe in this for any artist – whether a photographer, painter, writer or musician. You can’t sit around wait for inspiration to strike – you have to be moving the brush.

Move fast. Break things.

Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.

– Aaron Siskind –

What Attracts You?

What are you drawn to? Not just in your own work. What photos are you drawn to, what stories suck you in (books, cinema, real life). What makes you care or stop and stare?

I have books on street photography (I love Alex Webb & Trent Parke), fashion and even a book of record covers hanging round for inspiration. Recently I’ve been fascinated with the work of John Dolan (wedding photographer) and Greg Williams (Hollywood photographer) and have bought and ingested books by both of them. I’m fascinated by cinematography – not just in movies but also in prestige TV shows like Breaking Bad and The Handmaid’s tale.

Having a range of input really helps as an artist. But taking note of what moves you and why will really help you progress towards the work you want to make.

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.

– Elliott Erwitt –

Put yourself out there for criticism

Nothing will make your work progress further than finding a good mentor or friend who will look at your work and help you refine your vision. It’s even better if you can find several mentors or a critique group. 

Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.

– Don McCullin –

Try new things

Take yourself on creative dates. Watch shows that you don’t want to. Go and look at art that you don’t get and see if you can understand it. Some things won’t stick, but I think it’s very easy to get stuck in a rut and listen to the same tunes, watch the same things and limit our mental diets and ideas.

Can you put it all together?

Can you create a portfolio of your work that says “This is me” – 25 photos or so which thematically or visually fit together?

My guess is, if you’re just starting out, you probably can’t. But don’t worry – the trick is to keep returning to step 1 (make lots of work) and following through all the steps until you can. If you keep going it will happen.

If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.

– Eve Arnold –