Last week I came back from London, where I spent two wonderful days with a small group of people, stuck in a City Apartment, listening and talking about photography – Jonas Peterson´s workshop “A Greater Story”.
Jonas Peterson is a man who makes a fortune every year travelling the world and shooting weddings. He’s a bit of a rock star for those who are into weddings – he gets asked for his autograph, and for pictures with his fans. More than that, he is a genuinely friendly person; he’s an artist who - as probably every artist should- struggles and fights to be truthful in what he does.
We talked about a lot of things in these two days: Storytelling, Artistic Integrity, Customers, Facebook… even a bit of techy post-production talk. But what most struck a chord with me, and kept resonating over the following days, and is still ringing in my ears, is something that he said very early on: Find out what it is about your work that inspires you – and then do that more. Shoot what you see and what makes sense to you – not what’s expected.
For somebody whose main line of work is wedding photography – and we were all wedding photographers at this workshop – this is no trivial advice.
You see, I know exactly what got me into photography, what mesmerized me when I first took up a camera. It’s just that, when you shoot weddings, you can get stuck on shooting tablescapes; and when you shoot actor’s portraits, you may end up worrying most about whether his agency might prefer landscape or vertical shots.
So since I started out as a professional photographer five years ago, it’s true that I have started to forget a little why I got into it in the first place.
When people ask me how I got into photography, I usually tell them about our friends, Laja and Dominique, who got married eight years ago and forgot to book a photographer. They had loved the photos that we took on our trip to India and Japan, and so they asked us if we would do it. And after a good deal of hesitation we did. And ended up loving it, and they loved their photos, and then it all went from there.
While this story is true, this is how we ended up being PAID for photography; the initial spark happened a lot longer ago, and tells a lot more about what fascinates me about photography, and why I love what I do.
We were about 17 or so. I was talking with one of my best friends, probably about boys, and in a very cursory way she said something like: “It’s no wonder no boy likes me, the way I look.” I could tell she wasn’t being coquette – she really thought she was ugly. Which, of course, she wasn’t at all – like all of us, being 17, she was pretty, and lovely, and she had the loveliest smile in the world.
When I asked her what on earth led her to the presumption that she was ugly, she started showing me pictures of herself – and it’s true, she wasn’t photogenic. She did look pretty terrible in the pictures. But I knew that she was beautiful, because I knew her, so I set out to prove it to her.
She got her father to lend us his SLR, and a few days later we met in my parent’s sunny garden, and started. I ended up shooting what was then an incredible 3 rolls of film. In the beginning she was nervous, but as we kept walking through the garden, giggling, sitting down, making jokes, she relaxed – she opened up.
I showed her the pictures a few days later, the ones that I had chosen from the pile. She looked at them, she touched them, and she cried. Actually, we both cried. Something strange had happened: I had given her a different image of herself, one in which she was beautiful. And that was so powerful that it made both of us cry.
I didn’t think about it much before, but this is still what makes me tick. When I’m on the subway, or wait at the bus stop, or stand in line for something, I look at people’s faces, and I´m struck by them. I love how most people look, when they´re unaware of themselves, relaxed, just waiting somewhere. I love how they all have their dignity and beauty. How they have their wrinkles, and funny facial hair, and circles around the eyes, and dignity and beauty.
Of course there are other things that I love in photography: light, and the lack of it, the magic ingredient for all (outer) beauty; and composition, geometry. But to me, nothing beats the sheer beauty of a human face. Nothing.
Thank you Jonas for reminding me of that.