“Former achievements don’t count in the least, and everything must once more be put into question. Only in this way can you keep a fresh eye in your work.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)
The French Grandaddy of photojournalism is of course right – he’s talking about creative evolution. Every artist has, at some point, got into a furrow of creativity; I certainly have – we get to a point where we’re just churning out the same thing, maybe it’s because the same people are habitually patting us on the back, sometimes it’s out of laziness. In my case, it’s both.
Rarely, if ever, is anyone going to tell you to your face that your work has become somewhat…mediocre; as with any personal problem, the first step to salvation is admitting to yourself that you have a problem. Therefore, recently, I took HCB’s advice onboard and held my own artistic intervention. I put my work into question.
There are many ways in which we can evolve as artists, and I think it’s important to note that evolution doesn’t have to involve a change in individual style or motif – one of my favourite artists has changed the way he’s worked throughout his career, but every single one of his creations is obviously a David Hockney.
So how do we ascend from the depths of a creative rut? Well, in my case, it was relatively easy – I went back to all of the photography I’ve made over the last few years and reassessed and questioned every single image. What I realised is that, for a while, I’ve tried to be the photographer that I’m not – it doesn’t matter how many cats you throw off the top of a skyscraper – cats are never going to grow wings and fly, evolution doesn’t work like that. Each artist should appreciate who/what/where they are and progress from there.
What I’ve always done best (I hope), and what I actually enjoy most, is natural portraiture. Whether they’re journalistic pictures, like the portraits I made in the French migrant camps or ‘staged’ environmental portraits of people in cafes and abandoned houses – that’s what I’m going to concentrate on.
If you’re a cat, be a cat – climb trees and stay out all night. But stay away from the top of skyscrapers.
Over about fifty-years, Henri Cartier-Bresson produced some of the most memorable and recognisable photographs of the 20th Century. Sometime around his 60th birthday, the Frenchman called his work into question one last time and evidently decided he’d done all he could do, photographically – in 1968, he put away his Leica camera for good and took up painting.
All images of my good friend, artist and actor, Rob Smith were made using a Pentax 67II camera with 105mm lens and Fuji Pro400H film at box speed.