Finding Inspiration
What Fuels The Passion of Our Photography?
Recently one of my best pals decided to take up photography again after some many years of hibernation from the craft. It was who he said inspired him in making photographs that caught me off guard. As I found myself stumbling to try and come up with a famous photographer that had inspired me.

Pete Turner, Jay Maisel and Eric Meola were his inspirations, and I tried hard to try and recall anything those guys had published. I use to buy every photography magazine I could back in my early years, but most of the names of published photographers now eludes me.

Since the world wide web wasn't even around when I got into photography, it wasn't so easy to look up and do research on topics. It meant time in the library looking through card catalogs to find books about stuff.

I can at least still recall several things that stick out in my mind as I was coming-up in photography. The most important fact of any happened when I was about 14 years old... My cousin who was the photography instructor at a Jr. High School took me into the darkroom one night. I looked around and saw those big gallon brown glass jugs filled with chemicals and and that pretty much hooked me right there.

We had also just go back from a shoot where he did little league baseball shoots. He would shoot the team and individuals portraits then hope to sell them to the parents after he had them developed. In fact I am not even sure I ever was back in that darkroom ever again. But I was awe-struck enough to go the the library and check out books on photography.

Although I went with my cousin on plenty of sports team shoots, I never really felt that is what I wanted to shoot. Ironically we actually never even talked about the subject of photography. Even though He knew that I took the craft beyond just being a hobby, but I am not sure he realized how much of a passion it became.

The Early Years
As I look back I can see that in the beginning for me, the love was more in the processing and enlarging than it was the capturing. Although I can barely recall anything I may have shot in the beginning with my parents 620 Brownie and then a Kodak 126 Instamatic, I do remember riding the bus downtown to go to the photo store and buy the infamous "Tri-Chem Pack", a set of the 3 chemicals needed to develop film/prints.

It wasn't until about my 15th birthday when I got a Hanimex 35mm Rangefinder camera, that I can begin to recall scenes I may have captured with the help of hundreds of Kodachrome & Ektachrome slides I still have.

The only evidence I have left from those many days & nights in the darkroom is a dozen or so prints and the darkroom notes I made in 1980. When I look at them today it makes me wonder how I was so happy with the outcome of them back then.

In this quest I have embarked upon to figure who my inspirations were, I have looked through many photo magazines from the mid 70's and up. Yet no names really seem familiar and no images seem to be in my memory as seen before. Although the cameras and films of the times were well fresh in my memory banks, especially since I worked in a camera store in the early 80's and saw so many pieces of camera gear, darkroom equipment and types of film.

Although there wasn't an"Internet" back then, there were photography magazines... in newsstands with over a half dozen of them on the subject of photography. I do recall the infamous portrait by Steve McCurry of "Afghan Girl" in 1984, but I didn't really shoot portraits so I most likely just opted to not record anything about portrait photographers in my memory banks.

When it comes to landscape photography, I again am at a loss as to whom may have inspired me. I see so many photographers mention Ansel Adams, but yet I barely knew of any of his works until many many years into the craft photography. Of course, that could also be attributed to the fact that I rarely ever captured a landscape shot until much late in my journey.

My every-day camera rig for many years was a Nikon FE & Nikkor 50mm macro lens. As I look over the hundreds of 35mm slides from my past, I see the one common thread that was prominent through the various subject matter.

I seem to favor the small scene that is isolated from a tiny part of a much larger scene. What really struck a unique chord with me was seeing stuff I still shoot today such as "Pondering" (the print comparison shown above) and the similarities to my works from the 80's. Although I have branched out into some other categories, I still favor the world of macro photography.
Just Google It
After struggling to come up with any names of inspiration I posed the same question to some fellow camera peeps on FaceBook. I received replies with names like Minor White and Edward Weston, although I knew the names I still had to Google them to see works they have published. And then when the names Wolfgang Tillsman and Alfred Stieglitz came up, I definitely had to Google them. Edward Steichen and Henri Cartier-Bresson were top picks from one of my fellow camera peeps who spent a lot of time in the war in Iraq as a combat photographer.

Luckily I didn't feel alone in my quest to recall any inspirations to my photography, as a fellow camera peep said he had only been into photography for about 7 years and basically just shoots landscapes because thats what he likes to shoot. Finally I am not feeling at such a memory loss!

Due to the lack of information like we have at our disposal now... the inspirations I saw prior to the Internet would have been mostly those I knew from working in the camera store. There was a row of large prints (16x20 was a 'large" print in that day) on display along the tops of the shelves behind the counter. To get something hanging up there... it had to be pretty darn good.

Most of those pieces were from customers who frequented the store to hang out and buy film. A few of them were Doctors and we specifically would carry some items knowing they would buy them. Such as the tiny Minnox camera that one doctor always bought along with Minnox accessories.

Magazines Were The Fuel Of The Photography Industry
When I worked for Shutterbug Magazine I reached a point of information overload from seeing so much work that it became just a task to weed through images that were going to be used with articles submitted by the authors. As I recall any memorable works, one that sticks out in my mind was by Rick Sammon that I used on the cover of eDigital Photo Magazine.

Although I have never even attempted a silhouette shot like this after seeing it, I still was inspired from the fact that I liked the photo and that it made me want to go shoot some compelling image that I liked as much. And for me that is where my inspiration still comes from today, in the fact that I love to look at other photographers works.

Just like with the photography industry, I think my photography was in a transition period as well. Once I finally traded my film cameras for a DSLR, my world as I knew it definitely changed.

Upon recalling my tenure at Shutterbug, it lead me to why I left there... I was inspired to launch my own photography magazine PhotographicAge.com. There was an inspiration feature in each issue called "Spotlight" in where I showcased photographers. A brief bio about them and a sampling of a dozen or so images.

Looking back over the list of photographers I had interviewed for the Spotlight was an inspiring body of works that led me to expand my catalog of works featuring automobiles. Jeff Dorgay captured automobiles much the same way I see them, so I am sure there were some inspirations with my ArtOfAutos.com pieces.

For me it seems that my inspirations happen from events such as going into the darkroom for the first time. Getting something up on that display shelf in the camera store was definitely a goal inspired by the ones already there. Being around so much photography info and imagery while working at Shutterbug certainly had to give me some sort of inspiring moments.

You could say... For me, I am inspired by seeing so many others works. But more for the inspiration to go shoot than the inspiration to shoot something similar because I like how they presented it.

Be Inspired, Don't Mimic
Photographers love the idea they have inspired you to shoot, but don't really care too much for you to mimic their works. If Pete Turner's bright colored image of a trash can on the beach inspires you, then go out and shoot things that you think have a bright saturated vibrancy like that. You will not be flattering him by shooting a nearly identical scene.

As it appears for me that while I am inspired greatly by other photographers, it doesn't cause me to try an recreate a body of works similar to theirs. For example: I absolutely adore the portraiture work of Jacob Smith, but in no way would I try to achieve that style because it is not my natural like it is for him. I appreciate his confidence in his work and to present it how he wants to.

Take that inspiration one step further... After you see an image that you feel moved & inspired by, stop and discover what it is you like about it. It could be just because it has the color green in it, or that it has the same flower you find yourself capturing a lot. Once you begin to get a handle on what aspects of someones work inspires you, then you will unleash the creative beast within.

When we find that 'stimulus" that causes us to be inspired, and we learn how to harness that inspiration through our own viewfinder, will result in works that will inspire as well.

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