I've always felt photography is primarily a storytelling medium and, while I have explored this through close up portraits, over the past year or two I've found increasing enjoyment in creating set pieces - images that require more thought to outfit, props, and locations.
My recent trip to Holland (see previous post) was part funded by the South of Scotland Visual Artist and Craft Maker Awards - a grant designed to assist "practitioners to develop their creative practice through new work, new skills or new opportunities" - and enabled me to do a workshop with a master of storytelling photography, Peter Kemp.
Peter's studio is this huge old building, full of high-ceiling rooms with wood panelling and elaborate fireplaces, and for this workshop he had brought along Katina, a professional model he's worked with on many occasions. Powerful lights, large softboxes, striking model, amazing studio - I wasn't in Kansas anymore, Toto.
This wasn't a workshop about what settings to use on my camera: I was there to gain insights into some of Peter's processes - how he goes about creating his images. The intention, though, was never that I would end up producing photos just like his.
Even if he gave me every last ounce of his knowledge, it would take me years to practice it enough to refine the techniques to create a convincing Peter Kemp photo (and by then he would have moved further on anyway). And even if I did finally produce a Peter Kemp image, everyone would say, "that looks like a Peter Kemp photo", not a Kim Ayres photo - and what would be the point of that?
The purpose of being there was to gain experiences and absorb information that will eventually find its way into my own photographic toolbox.
An interesting dilemma occurred to me while I was there: if Peter was coming up with the initial idea and advising on set layout and lighting; the model was choosing and creating her own costume and makeup; and I was making adjustments to the set to suit my vision - then who gets to claim ownership of the final image?
I might have clicked the button on my camera, but there's much of the photo that did not have my input. Additionally, Peter then took his own photos of the same setup. The reality is, it was a collaboration. It's not a pure Peter Kemp photo, nor a pure Kim Ayres photo - it's a Peter, Kim and Katina photo.
I've always been quite free with giving information on how I do things - I don't believe in trying to hold on to photography "secrets" to give me some kind of advantage. Peter has a similar ethos. It's the personal experiences, insights and visions of each person that will affect his or her interpretation of the scene before them - even a very constructed one.
And if I had any doubts about this before, it was certainly borne out by the different ways we both edited our images in the days following.
Below are Peter's and my versions of the scene. Same model, same set, same lighting, same post-processing programme, different cameras, different photographers.
"Shocked" by Peter Kemp, Kim Ayres and Cat Candy K
"Decadence" by Kim Ayres, Peter Kemp and Cat Candy K
A lot of what I learned will make itself felt over the coming weeks and months. It might be subtle or it might be profound - time will tell. But it was certainly a worthwhile experience on several levels.
Another bonus of my trip to Holland was I got to meet photographers, Willem de Vlaming, Ricky Siegers and Susanne Stoop - people I have known for 3 or 4 years online, but this was the first time I got to meet them in person.
Peter, Ricky, Susanne, Kim & Willem
The thoughtfulness and hospitality I was shown in Holland was quite a humbling experience. From a complete stranger phoning Peter for me from the train station as my phone had no signal (cliff-hanger from the last post now resolved), to being aware of sitting in a Dutch cafe surround by Dutch-speaking photographers where they all spoke English for my benefit, through to Willem and his lovely wife, Saskia, inviting me to stay my final night at their house and Willem giving me a lift to the airport in the morning.
Huge thanks go out to all the people I met during my weekend in Holland. My world now feels larger and more exciting.