Not Fitting in a Photography Box

People often ask, “What sort of photographer are you?  A ‘Portrait Photographer’? A ‘Wildlife Photographer’? A ‘Street Photographer’?” But my range of photographic interests cannot be so easily squeezed into a single box.
I always carry my Contax G2 with me ready to capture the moments that life brings to me. I have often described myself as a ‘Walkout photographer with a snapshot style’ but that in a sense describes what I do and how I do it and a not my particular specialist photographic genre.
To me it matters not what the genre, whether it is scenics or places or nature for example. It is all about what presents itself then seeing the opportunity, framing the picture and exposing the film to capture the shot.
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Then there is film. I prefer to use film as it provides me with a more real, tactile photographic experience. It is also full of small ‘organic’ imperfections that add their own charm to my photographs. So you might thus be tempted to say that I am a “Film Photographer’ or in modern speak an ‘Analogue Photographer’ but that is way too wide a generalisation to be helpful.
Then there is being open to adventure. I am always happy to try different styles of photography, remain on the look out for new places to photograph and love trying out new film types. So maybe you could call me the ‘Constantly Learning Photographer’?
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So in the end I sat down and thought about the essence of what I do and that is to wander about photographing the things life presents to me. In other words you could possibly call me a ‘Life Photographer’, maybe? Not to be confused mind you with a ‘Lifestyle Photographer’!
So if you must put me and my photography into a box then I could thus be tempted to let you call me a ‘Life Photographer’. Let me try that out; I go to places, walk around with my camera and photograph whatever life brings to me, hence I am a ‘Life Photographer’. Hmm! It doesn’t sound quite right does it? In reality I photograph opportunities, that is moments that life presents to me, but you can’t call yourself a ‘Moments Photographer’ nor an ‘Opportunities Photographer’. The former sounds daft and the latter could easily be misconstrued as something quite sinister.
Strangely perhaps, I am after all much more comfortable being described by what I do rather than being constrained by being defined by any particular photographic genre I may focus upon (there would be too many anyway). So ‘Walkabout Photographer’ it remains even if it means I have to explain it to everyone who asks.”

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15 thoughts on “Not Fitting in a Photography Box”

  1. At the start of the excellent Don McCullin documentary he says ‘People call me a war photographer, but really I’m just a photographer’. Good enough for Sir Don, good enough for me…

  2. Richard J Ries

    When I read, “I always carry my Contax G2 with me ready to capture the moments that life brings to me”, I thought “Life Photographer”, but realized that sounds like you work for a long-defunct magazine! So, maybe a ” photographer of life”? can be “wandering”, “rambling”, “peripatetic”, or whatever you feel like using that day!

    Of course, with a digital phone, you could whip it out and tell ’em, “I’ m not sure. Let’s look at my last 500 (or 1,000 or 5,000) pictures, and maybe you can tell me!” Should send them running for the hills! 😁

    Have fun,

  3. I’ve often felt the same. I strongly identified with street photography in my 20s. But then I moved to a place where that wasn’t practical. Street photography requires anonymity, if the people around you know you, then it’s something else. So I’ve been kind of searching for a photographic niche for 20 years. Walkabout photography sounds nice.

  4. I’ve always thought there were two broad categories of photographers (although few people are 100 percent one or the other)

    There are photographers whose work revolves around people and their various activities
    There are photographers whose work is more likely to feature things or places. People may be present, but are not the main subject

    Look through your last 500 -1000 shots and I’d be willing to bet everyone leans one way or the other

  5. I always find it strange how we humans like to categorise everything.

    That seems to be true for every type of art. And if we can’t we try and mangle it into something recognisable. Oh, that movie is “James Bond” meets “Saturday night fever”.

    Some of my favourite artists are very difficult to nail down as they just liked to try lots of different genres, Bowie is the epitome of this.

    Like you I’m not sure if I actually have a style, I think sometimes that for someone else to define anyway.

    I just like taking photos of things or places with a camera of some description be it film or digital.

    The great Gary Winogrand summed it up well with “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”

    That’s good enough for me.

    1. You make an excellent point Shaun that the fun is in taking photos of places and things with your camera, that chimes with me too. Plus, who wants to be labelled as anything other than simply as a ‘photographer’ maybe – which was the well made observation that Patrick shared in his comment above?

  6. Dan J Castelli

    Marc Riboud passed away at the age of 93. He was a member of Magnum, and a very talented photographer. While doing some research on Mr. Riboud, I came across this quote from him:

    “This is what I do. I walk with a small camera. I keep looking – looking at and scrutinizing the things around me. I wander around a city, or a place. I notice, and sometimes photograph, apparently insignificant details. It fascinates me – it’s an obsession – but I don’t end up with a story. I am a collector of instants and details.”
    His quote summarizes my life-long approach to making photographs. If only I had read this in my 20’s… I’m now approaching 72. I’ve always carried a camera with me. Now it’s my Leitz-Minolta CL with the magnificent 40mm M-Rokkor f/2.0. Bulk loaded HP-5. Self-developed in my tiny darkroom. I scan some & post, Other negatives are printed and I bind them into small books.

    I don’t fit into any classification of photography. When I was younger, I was considered weird. Now I’m ‘old school’. I’m just happy to continue to do what I love to do with my photography.

    1. Hi Dan

      Yeah, old school cool! Great choice of camera and lens to always carry with you, by the way. Thank you for sharing the wise words of Mr Riboud.

      I like what Dorothea Lange said about carrying her camera everywhere, “You put your camera around your neck in the morning along with putting on your shoes, and there it is, an appendage of the body that shares your life with you. The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” It relates well to what Marc Riboud said about his obsession with looking at and scrutinising the things around him.

      Like you, I am content to continue on with my own style of good old film photography and the sense of well being that it brings.


  7. So much in this engaging article resonates with me, as do quite a number of the comments. I was also reminded of a Susan Sontag quote about the photographer as ‘flâneur’ from On Photography:

    ‘The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.”‘

    1. Your kind words are much appreciated as is the great quote.

      I don’t mind admitting I had to look up the word ‘flâneur’ – noun: a man who saunters around observing society. Very apt. 😀

      Thanks once again John.


  8. I used to describe my photography as “taking pictures my mother wouldn’t find worthwhile”. When I started out as a teenager I’d bring home pictures of something made of iron abendoned and rusty in a field and overgrown by grass and such. My mother would look and say “A typical Stefan picture. There’s nothing on it.” My day to dayphotography still is a lot like that…

    Nice article, thanks for posting!

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