Turning your passion for photography into a career can sometimes feel like an impossible slog – but every successful photographer has to start somewhere. In the second part of our series, a few of Magnum Photos’ biggest talents share their tips for young photographers…
David Alan Harvey
You must have something to say. You must be brutally honest with yourself about this. Think about history, politics, science, literature, music, film, and anthropology. What effect does one discipline have over another? What makes “man” tick? Today, with everyone being able to easily make technically perfect photographs with a cell phone, you need to be an “author”. It is all about authorship, authorship and authorship.
Many young photographers come to me and tell me their motivation for being a photographer is to “travel the world” or to “make a name” for themselves. Wrong answers in my opinion. Those are collateral incidentals or perhaps even the disadvantages of being a photographer. Without having tangible ideas, thoughts, feelings, and something almost “literary” to contribute to the discussion, today’s photographer will become lost in the sea of mediocrity…
Perhaps more simply put, find a heartfelt personal project. Give yourself the assignment you might dream someone would give you. Please remember: you and only you will control your destiny. Believe it, know it, say it.
David Alan Harvey took the above picture. See more of his work.
Try not to take pictures [that] simply show what something looks like. By the way you put the elements of an image together in a frame, [you] show us something we have never seen before and will never see again. And remember that catching a moment makes the image even more unique in the stream of time.
Also, try to do workshops with photographers whose work you admire, but first ask around to make sure they are good teachers as well as good photographers. Taking good pictures is easy. Making very good pictures is difficult. Making great pictures is almost impossible.
Have a look at Constantine Manos’ work.
Never stop enjoying it. Try and not “look” for pictures but keep yourself always open and allow yourself to be stimulated by whatever hits you. Work towards a goal – book, exhibition – but more importantly, work towards finding your own voice, your subject and your application.
Accept that your work is more about you than what you represent, try to bridge that balance, without resorting to photographing your feet! In other words, try and translate personal experience into a collective one; it is very possible and I think the key quest of any art form…
Study all the great photographers and love doing it, start at the beginning, look at early American, and German, then French, then take a close look at artists using photography in the sixties – Ruscha etc. Don’t get bogged down in theory, but respect it, read Robert Adams on Photography, in fact embrace Robert Adams generally and you will learn a lot.
Always try and be honest with yourself. For example, is the idea of being a photographer more exciting to you than photography itself? If this is true, think about becoming an actor. If you genuinely love photography, don’t give it up. Understand and enjoy the fact that photography is a unique medium. Respect and work within photography’s limitations; you will go much further.
Have a look at Donovan Wylie's work.
Don’t become a photographer unless its what you have to do. It can’t be the easy option. If you become a photographer you will do a lot of walking, so buy good shoes.
Have a look at David Hurn's work.
Young photographers should learn their craft well and don’t expect to make a constant living at taking pictures. But they should “follow their bliss”. Find time to pursue themes that indicate their concerns, big and small. Above all when shooting, make an articulate image.
Have a look at Dennis Stock's work.
More Magnum advice:
Part 1 – Alex Webb, Chris Steele-Perkins and more.
Part 3 – Martin Parr, Eli Reed and more.
Want to improve your photography skills? Apply for a bursary to Magnum’s next Professional Practice seminar in London.
Image: FRANCE. Paris. 1988. French Teenagers on a boat on the Seine river © David Alan Harvey/Magnum Photos.
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