Friday, 19 April 2013

Under the Influence

In image making it is not easy to be fully aware of the influences that inspire us to create. We are bombarded with imagery and the more we learn, the broader our frame of reference becomes. Ironically this narrows our ability to create original works as we discover how much has gone before but influence and inspiration are inevitable and essential parts of the creative process. Acknowledging this recognises that we cannot work in isolation. If we cut ourselves off from the complex world, we see our work only relative to the lowest common denominators of aesthetics around us. I feel it is a moral duty to investigate my influences and declare them. It seems photography as an art form is the most coy about this process. I am not sure whether this is a sort of corruption or ignorance maybe both or perhaps there is a little fear of being exposed.

We should not be afraid to discuss and explore our influences.

A few weeks ago, I came across a single image called 'Otto Jumping' which did well in a juried competition. It is an immediately striking image but I had this overwhelming feeling that I had seen it somewhere before. More recently, I was at the 'David Bowie Is' exhibition at the V&A, which incidentally, really impressed with its dissection of Bowie's creative process, and at this show I came across a great print of Terry O'Neal's shoot for Diamond Dogs.

This is just for illustration purposes only and I am certainly not making any assumption that the photographer was any more conscious of his influences at the moment of choosing this image than I was in viewing it but the reason why this contemporary image has value is that it is imbued with the genius of the O'Neal Bowie collaboration.

A very wise person once said to me that if you take an image and immediately like it, then it already exists in some form elsewhere and all we are doing is mimicking. Original work is possible but we will always bring our influences into the process of creation, so it is important to attempt to be conscious of what they are.

My issue isn't with the artist, I am not even critical here of any deliberate acts of plagiarism; we are arbiters of our own fate and if our need for affirmation is our primary goal that is entirely our own concern. The jurys, bloggers, curators and magazine editors however are the filters of what we see, they are the gate keepers of the credibility and respect of fine art photography and its legacy.

We all feel trapped by the debate on where photography is now; the 'is it dead' debate continues in those same blogs and magazines that have to endlessly fill their pages with something that 'seems' new. So we are still preoccupied with the post modern persuit of re-invention instead perhaps re-igniting the quest for the new contemporary image, stalled since the exciting days of Wolfgang Tillmans.

Perhaps when we start to pull back the curtain, we are afraid of our own little old weak man behind it pulling levers but we have a responsibility to challenge ourselves and the practices of other artists and decision makers, not aggressively but as a new landscape of discourse helping to explore the motivations that lead us to create. Perhaps then this pursuit of authenticity will lead to the development of a new way of seeing.

Here is one of my images from the series of 4 'Untitled', 2013 from 'PORTRAITS' showing at Tenderpixel, London and 'Women of Rissani, Morroco, 1971 - Irving Penn.

Women of Rissani, Morroco, 1971, Irving Penn & Untitled, 2013 © Richard Ansett 2013

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