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Photographers Need to Stay on the F@%king Bus

As an amateur photographer I often see people berated for creating derivative photography that looks too much like their influences. It’s too Cartier-Bresson or a recreation of a particular Avedon. Or the general style is of the type shot by somebody famous.

Which I’ve always thought of as pretty rich criticism – the underlying assumption being that a photograph is invalid unless it’s worthy of hanging as an original idea in New York’s MOMA (Museum of Modern Art).

Anyway, listening to Jeff Curto’s Camera Position podcast this week – Stay on the bus – introduced me to a brilliant metaphor. Contemporary photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen likens the photographic journey to a bus. And he says the answer is to just stay on the fucking bus!

He says imagine you’re at Helsinki Bus Station and the bus order corresponds to the years that you’ve been a photographer. So at year 3 you jump onto bus number 3. Only, it becomes quickly apparent the work you thought was so brilliant and original has been done before. There’s already a Richard Avedon on board. So you get off the bus.

Two years later you get on bus number 5 and the same thing happens. Only this time there is already a Henri Cartier-Bresson on board and you get off the bus.

And again, at your tenth year, your fifteenth year, and your twentieth year you find the same thing happening. Somebody else has done what you thought was original. So you get off the bus and regroup to try to achieve something original.

OK I loosely retold that story. But it’s basically what you’ll hear on Jeff Curto’s podcast. The answer, says Arno, is to just stay on that fucking bus. Don’t get off just because someone has already done that before.

The reason is that after a while all of the buses from Helsinki Bus Station diverge. They might appear to travel in the same direction for a while but eventually you’ll split away from your influences into entirely new territory. Because you have your own ideas. You aren’t Cartier-Bresson or Avedon; you’re you.

Staying on the bus means you’ll get to that point. But getting off the bus every time you feel that you’re being derivative of your influences just means you don’t really get very far past the first few stops at the bus station.

I really like this metaphor. Eventually, if I live long enough and shoot enough and think about it all enough the bus will diverge and I’ll be on my own ground. When I think of a photographer’s style this is what I’ve imagined to be the case all along. But now I can at least articulate it thanks to Arno.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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