Sculpting was my first logical approach to photography, and I guess everything else in my life. The reason that I chose the term sculpting was inherent to my understanding of what it was that I was doing. I'd take a snippet of what was in front of me, then begin to remove the unnecessary fat and gristle to reveal the image I was trying to show. The sentence from the paragraph I wanted to capture, in summary; summary and simplification of an already hectic environment.
I think the need to simplify and remove came first in my daily life. Priorities shift and the hustle and bustle of a post-teenage life begin to subside. Romance and work become the only two mastheads on the internal daily memo. Focus.
The less I began to include in my frame, the more I could say. Or at the very least did it all work together? I started to become frustrated with seeing the same shot on Instagram - a street scene in black and white, usually with two to four people walking in perpendicular paths to the point of origin. Fuck that. It's boring and doesn't tell us anything. So I stopped doing it. When you look at your own work and say out loud "I don't give a fuck about this" it's time to shoot something different.
Low key was a style that lent itself to my work quite naturally. I've only ever really listened to two pieces of advice in my life and one of them was "shoot for the fucking highlights".
Photographically speaking: best advice I have ever been given. No-one wants to see a perfectly balanced photograph that's critically sharp corner to corner and shows a gargantuan percentage of Pantone's available colour spectrum outside of commercial advertising (even this is beginning to improve as of 2018).
In addition, low key reflects the emotive aspects of what I am trying to communicate. The world is a dark place. Your mind is a dark place too. It's the slithers of light that mimic life's punctuation. The beat of a heart against a background of silence. A sentence whispered under a breath that begins to rot you away from the inside. Seconds within years. A morbid analogy but accurate.
Eventually I started looking at my work from the same perspective but it had actually changed. Themes started to make themselves clear. I take a lot of pictures with straight lines in. A lot. I also shoot a lot of urban landscapes with tiny people in them to give the world a toy within it. There's a lot of shadow and a lot of reflective shots too. I had started to form an actual style. It was also during this time that the technology I had been using begun to change. New cameras, lenses, scanners and papers to name so physical tools. But the biggest changes I observed were changes of process and skill.
Changes in process. Process is an all-encompassing term, for me, that describes an often linear series of creative and practical decisions. There are a metric ton of decisions to make between loading the film for example, and taking your first photograph. Or from having a roll of paper in your hands to making wonderful prints. Or shit prints, it could be either, but we're still making decisions here. No one said they would always be good ones.
As I have grown as a photographer, my process has changed and is changing continuously. For example, when I loaded a roll of film into my Canon 1000F back in 2013, I couldn't give a monkey what scanner it would pass through or what colour space it would be given to me in. This was reflective of my choices when taking the photographs too: that looks great! Let's shoot first and ask questions later. (See US gun crime & control as perceived by Europeans for a photographic analogy as to where this gets you). This simply lead to A LOT of shit photographs of nothing that were averagely exposed and did not tell a story. Not even a blurb.
Now, when I load a roll of Pan-F into my Contax G2, I already know that it will pass through an OpticFilm 8100 @7200 in 8bit greyscale compression from a 16bit scan pass. I also know what developer i'll be using, why and with a pretty high degree of certainty, what the final image will look like. Again, when you shoot for the highlights this process becomes a lot easier.
In summary, understanding what your doing and why from the onset will help you make better photographs. This is learnt from experience. I'll write a separate article to describe my process in full at a later date. I'm not saying my process is good, but it gives an insight, and to be honest will probably help people avoid costly mistakes that I have made one thousand times.
Changes in skill. So at this point I start to realise that my shitty photographs of people walking past a camera are long gone and I've managed to chip away the corners of the marble to reveal a crude but intimate portrait of whatever moment it was that I was trying to capture. Travel and street photography lend themselves to this process of sculpting quite nicely.
Key ares to develop in were timing, understanding of light, confidence and technical ability. The latter, often being rejected by artistic purists. Fuck off, running around with your Diana Mini and pointing it a colourful blob of shit doesn't make you a travel photographer, it makes you a photographic statistic. That statistic is 0. Understanding your tools is really important. I wouldn't buy a Ferrari unless I was one of two things: a race car driver or someone posing as a race car driver. The former of the two certainly knows how to drive it. The other isn't a race car driver. The same applies to being a photographer.
Light and confidence come with practice. Light refers to the physical phenomenon of photons bouncing around like crackheads at a gabber concert and the human mind trying to make sense of it. Some types of light are soft, some are hard, some create contrasts and gradients, others are and jagged. Without it there are simply no photographs. Respect it and learn what makes you happy when capturing it. More on this another time.
Confidence is another thing entirely. I'm not sure if it can be learnt or not if I am honest. I have an abundance of it on the surface and I'm not sure it's always been like that but is had made life far easier for me than it could have been. After ten years of maturing from sixteen to now twenty six, I wouldn't say it's my confidence that has grown but rather how much of a fuck I give about other people and their opinions. Either way, just get out here and do what you want. Seriously, if you want to use a full power flash in the middle of a busy fast food restaurant then do it. Fuck em. What's the worst that can happen? You see a great street scene unfolding in front of you, just pap it. Straight up. You're never going to see them again and if your physically fit (which is a discipline I would recommend to everyone) odds are you can outrun them anyway.
But seriously, in life just go for it. Nothing is for certain but it is absolutely YOUR responsibility to make anything happen. In my opinion the world is trying to become this soppy bollox pool of spineless same-ness. Reject that and be you. Be your own person and just get on with it!
But there we have it, towards the end of 2016 I was happy, photographically, with where I was at. This two year chapter of learning to sculpt was invaluable as a photographer and as a human being and helped me not only prioritise what was and wan't in frame, but also what was and wasn't important in life.