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It’s you, not the gear
“The best pictures you take in your life will be the ones that you care about. When you get that synergy between you and the subject, something emerges that is bigger than the subject and you,” said veteran photographer Mark Lyndersay, a Sunday Arts Section contributor, who spoke on August 14 at the first in a series of photographer learning/networking sessions at Studio 30, Woodbrook.
Lyndersay gave a presentation on the topic of relevance as a photographer in the face of changing times, trends and technology. He set that theme in the context of his career over the past 35 years and was careful to acknowledge that what he had to share was specifically related to him. “This is about my experiences, solutions and approaches. What I am talking about here is relevant to me but at the end of the day, I’d like you to leave thinking about something that is relevant to you.” Indeed, Lyndersay offered lessons and viewpoints that resonated beyond his personal relationship with photography. His talk was punctuated with advice that was pertinent to early-career photographers and persons working in other creative fields like graphic design and videography.
Lyndersay said asking key questions is an important part of one’s practice: what is everyone doing? Is that me? What do clients want? Is it something I do? “I shot everything when I began,” said Lyndersay, “I was lousy at about half of it. “Be clear about what you don’t want to do. Work that does not satisfy you is really very sad work.” To have a satisfying career, he explained, you had to go after it. In his experience, creative people rarely get paid to do what they want. “Clients don’t care about your art. They care about the product, the event and the managing director. You are the medium to get what they want,” he added. This knowledge led Lyndersay to a number of self-initiated image-making projects over the years, including a series entitled La Fleur Morte, which explores the process of aging through photographs of dying flowers. “There is this work that you do for yourself and then there is work that you do for clients. Sometimes the two things meet,” Lyndersay observed as he talked about a similar aesthetic he achieved in portraits done for the judiciary and the personal work of photographing the hosts of Gayelle Television.
In talking about personal work, he also raised an intriguing mathematical equation. If personal work is done for the love of the medium and amateur work is also executed for the same reason, then personal work must equal amateur work. “Every professional cherishes the opportunity to do personal work. They set aside time to fulfil that dream of what they want their pictures to look like. Why then are you rushing to become a professional? People rush to become a pro before figuring out what is happening with the medium and how they fit into it and what works for them.” The photographer described a creative career filled with possibilities and pitfalls. He remembered what he called his first rip-off in 1978 with a photograph he took of Michael Jackson kissing Janelle “Penny” Commissiong on the cheek. "The guys from Epic Records knew that I had no idea what I was doing and they paid me a pittance to send the picture off to Jet Magazine and Essence. “It was a very valuable lesson. It is a picture that I have on my wall to this day as a reminder both of opportunity and the kind of thing that comes along once in a lifetime and the way that people take advantage of you if you don’t really know quite clearly what you are doing.”
Lyndersay believes that a career in creative endeavours involves a balance between the work that you get and honing your craft. In photography, “You can work at craft. You can work at developing a vision, a way of approaching pictures, a way of seeing things.” Lyndersay hastened to add that working on craft is more than a focus on equipment. “I don’t have a fetish about equipment. Cameras don’t take pictures. The gear is a conduit through which you can express your thoughts, feelings and view of the world. It is not the gear. It is you.” Studio 30 talks are organised by photographer Antony Scully, who aims to foster a community of “creatives” with similar interests. Sessions will take place monthly at 30A Warren Street, Woodbrook. The next in the series is scheduled for September 18.
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