An abridged version of this article was published in Amateur Photographer magazine in March, 2011.
I don’t know about the majority of my fellow AP readers, but do any of you wonder why you have taken a particular photograph, or why you took it in the way you did? I ask because of a recent meeting of my camera club, at which the judge of our internal competition gave two short presentations after the contest was over, in which he raised the questions: is there anything new in photography? and do we copy the ideas of other photographers? He illustrated these talks by showing comparisons of photographs taken in the 1940s and ‘50s and some taken between 2004 and 2007 - they were of varying subjects, such as coastal scenes, portraits and landscapes.
It was perhaps not surprising that there were hardly any differences, apart from issues of quality that were down to modern technology, in the composition of the pictures.
It made me sit up and think about why I took a particular shot, and why I chose to take it from where I did, and indeed what made me take it in the first place. My conclusion is that I am indeed influenced, I think, on occasion subconsciously, by photographs that I have seen in books and magazines.
How many of us, for example, look at a great picture in AP, like the picture of Corfe Castle in Dorset that won Landscape Photographer of the Year, and think, “Wow! I wish I’d taken that”? This is, I think, the subconscious trigger, because why else would we go to well known and oft-photographed places such as London’s landmarks, or renowned scenic places like the Peak District and National Trust properties, other than with the intention of putting our slant on just such a scene?
There must be something in all of us that suppresses the feeling that we are simply recycling old ideas and reproducing photographs that are more or less the same as those of our forebears. In our minds we are capturing the scene with a new perspective, or simply determined that it is better to have a picture that we have taken ourselves, that we are happy to frame and hang on the wall, rather than a copy of someone else’s almost identical one. I don’t for one minute suggest that it is vanity or one-upmanship that drives us to replicate what has gone before, but I fear it does prove that there is nothing new in photography.