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The Most Creative Ideas Come From Working With People Whose Minds Work Differently To Yours

John Duder is exploring the idea that opening up your photography world to people who capture different styles and subjects to you can only be a good thing.

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1 NI cover and article – here’s the inspiration for this piece: a magazine that is thoroughly counter-cultural, and which pushes me to think beyond stereotypes on all sorts of social and political issues. All the contributors broadly have the same ideals as I do, but often have radically differing approaches.

NI cover and article – here’s the inspiration for this piece: a magazine that is thoroughly counter-cultural, and which pushes me to think beyond stereotypes on all sorts of social and political issues. All the contributors broadly have the same ideals as I do, but often have radically differing approaches.

 

Contrary views

The idea for this article came to me while reading a copy of New Internationalist, which often contains articles addressing important issues through articles alternating the views of people who have differing views of a particular problem.

NI is published by a collective and was set up with help from Oxfam many years ago. It deals with social justice, green issues, and all manner of things that tend to cause instant polarisation in a conversation.

I first read it when my grandmother subscribed to it: she was a very conventional and middle-class woman, and the views in it cannot always have been comfortable for her. These days, they are often uncomfortable for me, questioning my assumptions about the world. I stick with it because experience has taught me that I learn more, and form more rounded views by associating with a range of people whose views differ from my own.

 

2 Just because we’re different… Seline and Simon (who runs Centraweb Studios in Telford). We don’t confine friendships to people the same height, and it’s good for us to be equally catholic in other ways.

Just because we’re different… Seline and Simon (who runs Centraweb Studios in Telford). We don’t confine friendships to people the same height, and it’s good for us to be equally catholic in other ways.

 

I’ve found this to be true at work – often, the most creative solutions come from working with people whose minds work a different way, and who have contrasting training and experience. Sometimes, people who seem at first to be utterly opposed to what you want to do become the best partners in achieving new things. What President Joe Biden calls ‘working across the aisle’ is usually a very positive experience, and brings great benefits.

But what’s this got to do with photography, you may ask… I want to suggest several ways to apply it.

Make friends with people who shoot completely different styles and subjects

My home territory is portraits and nudes, with both natural and studio light, and I am good enough at it that I ran workshops pre-Covid, and plan to do so again fairly soon. But I found I benefitted a great deal from a day of tuition from a landscape photographer a few years ago. I won a day with Dave Butcher, along with two other people, and both my camerawork and my darkroom processing benefitted.

 

3 Dave Butcher – a gifted landscape photographer, and an excellent teacher. And yes, that’s a film camera in his hands.

Dave Butcher – a gifted landscape photographer, and an excellent teacher. And yes, that’s a film camera in his hands.

 

Often, I suspect that such practical tuition (in my case, a drizzly day in the Lake District) embeds things that we already know in theory (such as, in that case, use a tripod for landscapes!) by forcing us to try something that we keep stowed away in the back of our minds and showing how effective it is. (I also learned the benefits of a handheld spot meter for reading shadows from the back of an inaccessible waterfall, and of printing an apparently thin negative on soft paper to bring out the fullest range of tones that day.)

 

4 In theory, I knew how to take a picture like this before going on a course with Dave Butcher. In practice, things changed that day… A handheld spot meter really helps a lot with a scene like this!

In theory, I knew how to take a picture like this before going on a course with Dave Butcher. In practice, things changed that day… A handheld spot meter really helps a lot with a scene like this!

 

To use a workplace term, there will be transferrable skills, as well. A completely different environment requires an alternative skillset, and it’s only when you use this deployed that you spot things that may be useful for your own work. Because of the way that my old Alpha 900 worked, with a button that you pressed and held to hold focus, I didn’t explore back button focus very much, and still don’t use it often, but use the focus lock button on my Alpha 7. But there are situations where back button is far and away the best way to operate – for instance when taking full-length shots in the studio with mains-powered flash.

 

5 One little button set me on a course slightly at an angle to using back button focus. This button, on a 2008 Alpha 900, isn’t programmable, and has a single function. Pressing it disengages autofocus.

One little button set me on a course slightly at an angle to using back button focus. This button, on a 2008 Alpha 900, isn’t programmable and has a single function. Pressing it disengages autofocus.

 

Zooms and flash are other areas where views differ a bit… I see little virtue in speed flash units, but I wonder if there’s someone out that who wants to show me that they can be predictable and thus useable for work that requires finesse of angles? Equally, I generally do very little work with zoom lenses, because they are unable to deliver the effects that I see as my trademarks, but I do acknowledge their usefulness where lightweight and compactness are at a premium, and the last few times I’ve gone walking with friends, I’ve taken only an EM-10 and 14-42 zoom… I have no plans for any standard zoom to find its way onto my Alpha 7, though – but again, if there’s a Sony user who wants to join me in a shared studio session and swap lenses for the day…


6 Same general concept, different generations. Let’s not argue which is better, and just enjoy both.

Same general concept, different generations. Let’s not argue which is better, and just enjoy both.

 

The older battles are between AF and manual focus, and film and digital. Essentially, these are decided by the latest generation of digital cameras with their excellent eye detection and massive quality, although I’m among the group that sees continuing virtue of the occasional foray into manual focus and film for specific purposes. And therein lies the benefit for all: conversations with people who do it differently can expand horizons on both sides, providing you both have an open and enquiring attitude.


7 No camera in the operating theatre, but the kidney transplant I watched all those years ago left a scar rather smaller than a C-section delivery.

No camera in the operating theatre, but the kidney transplant I watched all those years ago left a scar rather smaller than a C-section delivery.

 

Many years ago, as a junior DHSS employee, I was offered the chance to watch a kidney transplant from beside the operating table: on a Friday afternoon, I was sitting in a hospital going through records as part of a project to work out the cost of various treatments for kidney failure when a registrar poked his head round the door and announced that there would probably be a transplant happening the following day, and did either my colleague or I want to watch it. How could I refuse? (though my colleague did). Mind you, I missed the Borg-McEnroe Wimbledon final, which was happening at the same time as the transplant…

 

Gemma Marie – WHY? (Or maybe ‘Why not?’)

Gemma Marie – WHY? (Or maybe ‘Why not?’)

 

There’s an attitude, an approach that we usually have in our childhood of always asking ‘why?’ and wanting to explore. Life tends to train this out of us – curiosity killed the cat, and so on – but I think that it’s the key to going on learning better ways to do things. Embrace your inner teenager, and ask a few open questions – the why, how, where, when stuff. The answers may fascinate you, and even if they don’t, you’ll win a friend because you were interested!

Of course, it’s all far less structured than going on an organised tutorial, but that’s the point: instead of filling in gaps in your knowledge that you’re aware of, you will be adding whole new areas to your understanding in a random way. You’re not exploring the lands to the West, but finding that there are also lands to the South.

 

9 Everybody needs someone who leads them gently towards new ideas – one of the greatest influences on my development has been Fred Whisker, who I met at the Camera Club in Kennington, around 20 years ago.

Everybody needs someone who leads them gently towards new ideas – one of the greatest influences on my development has been Fred Whisker, who I met at the Camera Club in Kennington, around 20 years ago.

 

My friend and mentor Fred Whisker not only showed me new things to do in the studio but also encouraged me to visit art galleries. Painters and sculptors deal in the same language that we do as photographers but create with – so to speak – a different accent and vocabulary. Looking at their work and getting beyond thinking ‘I’d have framed that differently’ will teach us new approaches, and new ways to use the light.

 

10 Layla, and a mirror. Getting the light levels right and getting adequate focus on both eluded me – six or seven years on, I still want to get this shot right! It illustrates, for me, the considerable differences between painting and photography that are not immediately apparent. A painter can adjust such details, possibly without conscious thought: a photograph requires – as so often – meticulous attention to technical details.

Layla, and a mirror. Getting the light levels right and getting adequate focus on both eluded me - six or seven years on, I still want to get this shot right! It illustrates, for me, the considerable differences between painting and photography that are not immediately apparent. A painter can adjust such details, possibly without conscious thought: a photograph requires - as so often - meticulous attention to technical details.

 

As an aside, we can also learn a bit about rigorous photographic technique: I remember being struck by a particular image in a show I saw with Fred at the National Portrait Gallery, which made use of a mirror to produce a double portrait. My efforts to shoot something similar were frustrating, to say the least - I struggled with both getting plain background and light levels – working in a relatively small room, I found that getting light of the right strength for a full-face portrait led to overexposed rim lighting... I think that processing the images for the first time was when I came to appreciate the full weight of the Inverse Square Law working in a small room. Explorations and questions don’t always lead you where you think they will...

 

11 Demonstrators, several years ago, near Westminster. Debate is healthy, providing it deals with the realities at the heart of a disagreement. That day, the opposing demonstrators were fewer, and looking far less open to discussions.

Demonstrators, several years ago, near Westminster. Debate is healthy, providing it deals with the realities at the heart of a disagreement. That day, the opposing demonstrators were fewer and looking far less open to discussions.

 

Does this seem a long way from work and politics, and talking to people on the opposite side of the Brexit debate? I honestly don’t think it is, because all these issues exercise our tolerance muscles. And conversations across any divide demonstrate that we are all multi-dimensional: despite the attempts of some people (who may well be seen to have vested interests in keeping society divided) it’s perfectly possible for two people to have bitterly opposed views on politics, but entirely congruent views on ecology, favourite photographic locations and the benefits of a vegan diet.

 

12 Healthy debate needn’t get as heated as here, in Death of a Clown. (Chris Round and Dominic Thompson in rehearsal for Gritty Theatre Company.)

Healthy debate needn’t get as heated as here, in Death of a Clown. (Chris Round and Dominic Thompson in rehearsal for Gritty Theatre Company.)

 

Maybe an important part of the art is to remember the areas that may overheat the conversation – and to acknowledge one’s own triggers! A lesson from work (for me) was not to respond to deliberate pushes at my buttons – for some reason, quite a lot of councillors enjoy officer-baiting in committee meetings: scoring points off people who may not feel able to defend themselves. The armour that surviving deliberate provocation provides is valuable in everyday life: the soft answer turneth away wrath.

 

13 Barriers and boundaries everywhere. Instead of looking at the blockages, why not consider the opportunities?

Barriers and boundaries everywhere. Instead of looking at the blockages, why not consider the opportunities?

 

That’s worth remembering when one is accosted by an angry farmer, security person or simply a member of the public who takes unwarranted exception to picture-making: sometimes the conversation will turn things around and you’ll acquire a new best friend, especially if you can offer images by email. It won’t always work that way, but it’s interesting that a stormy start can lead to cordial relations or even a team. It’s the plot of every army recruit film ever made!

 

14 A few hours after the unfriendly barriers near Centre Point, I encountered this happy group who were actually quite keen to have their picture taken.  Offering to email copies often eases photographic tensions – and on that occasion, was very welcome.

A few hours after the unfriendly barriers near Centre Point, I encountered this happy group who were actually quite keen to have their picture taken.  Offering to email copies often eases photographic tensions – and on that occasion, was very welcome.

 

About Author: John Duder 

John Duder has been an amateur photographer for fifty years, which surprises him, as he still reckons he’s 17. He’s welcomed the easing of restrictions and the chance it’s provided to go back to model photography, and he’s also been running occasional lighting workshops with Misuzu. He remains addicted to cameras, lenses, and film.

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Comments


AltImages 2 2
12 May 2022 11:54AM
A very interesting and informative article 😊

As for the mirror shot, here's a sacrilegious thought for you. Have you thought about reshooting it with your mobile phone? I have a Samsung Galaxy S8 that has a selective focus camera mode, where it takes two differently focused 'bracketed' photos and joins them seamlessly. But even without the selective focus the tiny sensor of a mobile phone could well give a sufficiently large depth of field to prove satisfactory. Definitely worth a try.
dudler Plus
18 1.9k 1933 England
12 May 2022 9:47PM
As it goes, I'm looking to do more mirror shots again: and I suspect the real answer is to shoot with the right geometry, so that both images are at the same distance...

Point taken - though my cooking iPhone (which I'll change when the third battery dies, and not before) doesn't do that stuff with two images. As far as i know!
kaybee 18 8.2k 27 Scotland
13 May 2022 8:28AM
'WHY?' is the ultimate question and can never be answered fully.
'How?' can be much harder to be both explained and understood than it should be.
'Open mindedness' and 'Tolerance' can be very hard to achieve despite being very simple concepts to understand.

Put them all together successfully and you come to 42.

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