Email to an Aspiring Photographer

I recently received an email from an artist who asked for some direction on how to start practicing and exhibiting photography. I thought it was great that he reached out to say hi and to ask for some advice. I often get asked similar questions, so I thought I'd post my reply, as someone else may find it useful. (A Letter to A Young Poet it is not).

G’Day Stephen,

Thanks so much for your email. It’s always good to hear from other keen photographers.

Are you based in Canberra? If so, I strongly suggest you visit PhotoAccess in Manuka: It is a community art centre that specialises in photography and they hold regular exhibits and workshops. It is a good hub to access knowledge and info. I teach there occasionally and they have some really great and helpful staff.

If you are not based in Canberra then I suggest you find a similar organisation and make contact with other exhibiting artists and contact them, just like you have me. This is really the best way.

Personally I work in a way that is personal and diaristic in nature and approach. I like to photograph and then a life event or a time frame will dictate to me when I have finished what I am doing.

I recently showed work from PNG at PhotoAccess, you can find the exhibition on my website. For this work I have been photographing in PNG for 10 years and the show was an edit of work I selected from a lot of work.

For smaller things, I suggest you focus on what is important to you as a person and let your artist be inspired by that. What do you know well and intimately better than others? What is your story to tell that only you can tell? I recommend my students photograph the things that interest them and to photograph people and places that they would be happy to visit even if they weren't there to photograph. You know what I mean? You have to be interested in what you are photographing, otherwise a disinterest will really show in the pictures.

Make photographs for yourself an no one else, don't think of how they will be received, just that you are happy to make them and present them. If we always worried about what others would think of our work we would all be nervous wrecks.

Don’t be afraid to photograph the things that are close to you and that may seem inconsequential. Photography has a knack for making the small things in life big, it’s like photographing something can highlight it and make it important. And vice-versa, in so much as the big things that seem important to photograph can often produce the most boring images. It’s a battle, no doubt, but try to focus on things that you find of recurring interest and that engage, inspire and intrigue you. 

Photograph light, even without choosing a particular subject and see what happens. Light makes pictures, so definitely learn how to use and appreciate it.

Other than that, look at photography websites and books. The program at the Monash Gallery of Art is a good place to start, and have a look at the exhibition archive at PhotoAccess and the Australian Centre for Photography. 

I like personal documentary photography and a few of my fav photographers are Walker Evans, André Kertész, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Araki Nobuyoshi, Antoine D’Agata. There are thousands of them, just depends on what type appeals to you.

All the best, I hope that helps a bit.