The Biggest Influence on My Photography
I’ve been sorting through my photo library over the last little while in what has become a mammoth project, but I’m getting through it. It’s been a very interesting experience. Apart from the sheer work involved it’s been a valuable experience looking back over my body of work from the last few years. It’s interesting to see how my style has evolved over the years, both in terms of technique and subject. It’s also made me quite nostalgic and zen about the whole process, and I’ve been thinking about my place in the world as a photographer, and how I got to where I am now.
I’ve had lots of influences over the years. My dad was a keen photographer, and it’s probably his love of the craft that made me interested in photography in the first place. I also worked as a designer and an assistant for a professional photographer for a few years, and my duties included scanning slides and negatives and also printing, both for the Photographer I was working for and some of his clients. I got to see a wide variety of photos and styles from all over the country and further. The biggest influence by far though has to have been National Geographic.
I was walking past a news stand in my local newsagent recently and as I picked up the current issue I realised that this little rectangle of yellow bound paper has probably been the single biggest thing that has pushed me to Photography.
I still remember the time I bought my first issue of National Geographic. I can’t quite remember why I did it at the time, but I remember being blown away by the magazine. The beautiful rich images and the detailed stories were amazing to my young eyes. I was already interested in photography at the time but this was a huge eye opener. To me, National Geographic was like the oscars. It was the best of the best when it came to photography. The imagery from around the world made me want to travel the world and follow in the footsteps of the artists whose work graced the pages. It wasn’t just the nature photography or the articles from far flung corners of the world either. I loved the articles where they visited small towns in America or other countries and detailed aspects of the communities and their traditions and customs. In fact I often preferred these over the nature stories.
I started shooting slide film because of National Geographic. I read how many of the photographers shot on Kodakchrome and I did my best to get hold of some (it was hard to get where I lived in Ireland at the time, and hard to get processed) and I still have a Photo CD (remember that?) with the images from my first attempt at shooting Kodakchrome on it. (they were terrible). The yellow kodak box and the yellow National geographic frame will be forever linked in my mind. Even as I moved into Film and Television as a career path, I can still look back on the influence National Geographic had over me. I developed a love of cinematography and many of the cinematography masterpieces that I loved were because it “looked like something out of National geographic”.
Today my biggest Photographic hero is probably Joe McNally. Joe is a long time National Geographic photographer, and his work is just amazing. I’ve been following his blog for the last few years religiously. I have most of his books and watched most of his classes. One of these days I hope to attend one of his workshops.
Over the years, and especially recently I’ve gotten to do quite a few things that I could only dream of in the early days when I first read the glossy pages of National Geographic. I’ve been around the world and shot in some of the places I’ve read about and always wanted to visit.
I can’t help but wonder what would my influence be if I was starting out now. The cynicism that pervades the internet makes it hard to be passionate about anything without it being a minefield of trolling and hate. For every hero there’s a large contingent of haters waiting to tear them down. Today when you really like something, whatever it might be, and try to find out more about it, you inevitably come across some diatribe about why it’s actually really awful and anyone who likes it is a terribly deluded person and so on. With social media this is even worse. While this is just part of the reality now, I wonder if I would have been as passionate about National Geographic’s photography, and would it have had as much of an influence if I was only coming to it now. 
Today, I don’t get the magazine as often as I used too. (I used to subscribe but the postal service in Ireland is so bad I’d never get two or three issues a year) but I still love the work and still think it’s the Gold standard. I still love to have the physical magazine too. It’s an island of colour and something real in the sea of electrons that has become our daily lives. To me the joy of turning physical pages still has an element of that sense of wonder of faraway places that’s just somehow lost when you’re reading something connected to the rest of the world via the internet. (Also, the iPad version of the magazine is terrible)
My ultimate dream is to someday shoot for the magazine. I know it will probably never happen. I certainly don’t think I’m good enough. But the legacy of the publications influence over me will probably live on forever and constantly drive me to improve and reach forward. So thanks National Geographic, for the memories both past and and ones yet to be made, for the drive to do better, and for all the beautiful images over the years.
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