The fact is that a good salesman has more chance of becoming a successful photographer than a brilliantly talented artist who refuses to sully his art with commercial necessities. Fortunately, I have sullied myself enough to make a living.
The sales process aside for a moment, just processing the images is a major time commitment and so it should be. Digital technology has freed us from the expense and limitations of darkroom processing, but the core principle of taking a negative and interpreting its potential is still a major part of the life of a photograph.
RAW files, the digital negative, are still barely into the teenage years of a photographs lifespan. At that stage there are many possible futures ahead for the image. It may gain character from becoming a black and white image, it may need a little cropping to disguise the ugly bits, or some digital darkroom manipulation to enhance the less obvious strengths within. The image has a wide range of potential careers as well. Perhaps something modest like a thumbnail on a travel website alongside several hundred other thumbnails? Maybe greater things await the mature years of the image, such as hanging from a gallery wall with a beautiful frame or a cover photo on a travel magazine that boldly greets to entire world?
Perhaps the future holds something truly remarkable, such as becoming an iconic image that is seen over and over again across multiple mediums and attaches itself to the common psyche of an entire community. I shot an image in 2004, literally days before the tsunami, of a smiling Hindu boy riding the Kandy train in Sri Lanka. It became an image of hope that became a symbol of our efforts to raise money for the tsunami victims.
Images do not however possess an intrinsic destiny of their own. No more than a camera is responsible for a photograph on its own. The photographer does this, like a fine craftsman carving his Pinocchio from a branch of wood. Long after the shutter has been pressed we give that photo a life, we help it to mature and send it out into the world to gather experience and identity. As much as we like to emphasise the moments of brilliance and dedication that happen before the shutter is activated, we still have only just begun the journey. There is much work to do before the image can live a full and glorious life.
Most images of course never enjoy fame and fortune. Most photographs live on a hard disk, hidden from the daylight and trapped in stasis, silent and without expression, their destiny kept on hold. They do not sit in slumber, they are constantly on the verge of exploding into life yet sit motionless like a frozen moment. All they need is the photographer to enter the room once more and bring it all back to life, to click through a folder of images and release a spark of creative urgency. Suddenly the idle image becomes a centre-piece for a book, a double-page spread, an award-winning entry, a poster picture, a team player in a pictorial tale.
But only when the hand of the photographer is at play.
The relationship between a photographer and his photos is so very important. They have to be more than just casual acquaintances. There has to be a little emotion and respect. If you love your images then there's a good chance they'll bring you love too.
I worry about the growing size of my photographic collection, I worry that I might forget those early friends who helped define who I am as a professional.
I recently published a story on Zanzibar that allowed me the indulgence of going back to my photos from 5 years before. At the time my Canon 5D was brand new, my career was lurching into a new realm of recognition, but I wasn't aware of any of this - I was just out there shooting and loving the chance to travel. Seeing those images many years on brought me back to that time, and I was amazed at the vibrancy and expression within the images. Each held independent character of their own, like lost friends rather than offspring from my creative existence. I was amazed such lovely beings could remain hidden from sight from so long, and the chance to bring them back to life and publish in a glossy magazine gave me, and if it were possible the images themselves, a sense of completion. A life well lived.
I've quoted Robert Doineau before but I'll do so again here because he brings it all together nicely...
I'm quite happy with my pictures. I've been cohabiting with them for years now and we know each other inside out, so I feel I'm entitled to say that pictures have a life and a character of their own. Maybe they're like plants, they won't really flourish unless you talk to them. I haven't gone that far – not yet anyway. Lots of them behave like good little girls and give me a nice smile whenever I walk past, but others are real bitches and never miss any opportunity to ruin my life. I handle them with kid gloves.