Learning from seeing

No images of mine here today. Its just a little reflective diary entry.

Ages ago I wrote a small bit on fashion and how I intended to go and see the David Bailey’s Star Dust exhibition.

I discovered rather mixed opinions of him as a person but generally everyone liked his work. After attending the show I can not say that I was overly impressed.

Please don’t get me wrong, he obviously knows what he is doing with a camera. I loved some of the portraiture but I walked away not understanding how his photography stood out from any other good photographer. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

What I did notice was that he has a very definite and natural style. Maybe that is why he is so highly regarded; the ability to capture the person rather than just the public persona that person wants us to see.

I meant to blog about this ages ago and for one reason or another it didn’t happen. Maybe I felt a tad self conscious being a novice and talking about such a well known photographer….But guess what…Even us newbies have an opinion.

I discussed it at that ten week class I was attending at the time and was met by gasps all around the room, one raised eyebrow with a rye smile and what I felt was an approval to go on speaking from the lecturer.

I wasn’t trying to be controversial then and neither am I trying to be now. I explained that I rather think circumstance and luck might have had more or at least an equal weighing with his ability as a photographer.

He has produced some iconic images of people that were in his social circle.. luck, circumstances and ability. Thats a good thing and I’m not knocking that. What ever happened after that would have been down to hard work, charming his client base, putting in the hours and ultimately producing the images.

The response from the other students of varying ages and abilities was almost amusing.

Saying I thought he was talented and got some great results was totally overlooked.

I felt like some thought I’d lost the plot by speaking about such a renowned photographer… Who was I to say such a thing. Well I am me, just a person but a person entitled to an opinion whether or not I’d ever even picked up a camera.

I don’t even think it was a criticism. I’m sure as hell positive the man wouldn’t give a toss what I thought and would almost certainly agree with me about the role of luck and opportunity, along with hard work being key factors.

What you do with that opportunity once your foot is in the door is down to you. David Bailey clearly did very well.

I still chuckle to myself about that moment in class.

Anyway I didn’t mean to ramble about all of that…..The reason I went to Bailey’s star dust was to learn.

I wanted to look at his images and feel inspired. Although some of the images failed to do this, I learned a great deal.

I think exhibitions are a great way for us to learn; we get to see what we like, what we don’t like and hear opinions of others so that we can learn what is generally appealing to the masses. It really is just a matter of taste.

The reason I’m making a note of it now is because I went to the World Press Photo Expo at the CCCB in Barcelona. I walked around feeling uninspired until I caught myself say something……. It then dawned on me that I was viewing these images in completely the wrong perspective.

What I said was something along the lines of “some of these are composed so badly, how on earth did they get shortlisted”.

A little further I spotted some images I had previously seen as part of a documentary exhibition in London and then something started to niggle at me; the thought I may have been looking at the images in the wrong frame of mind.

The winning image by John Stanmeyer started to make more sense and then I came across an image by a photographer called Goran Tomasevic (Serbia, Reuters). It won first prize for spot news stories; people were sheltering from debris and shrapnel from a bomb blast.

That was when it hit home. Very different circumstances and nowhere near as dangerous but just like my photo-essay that I did with The Royal Marine Commandos, I had very limited choice with regards to composition; these were news stories! Huh!!!! The clue was in the title!!

Feeling a bit of a tit, I went back to the first image and worked my way around the gallery looking at the images with fresh eyes and a changed respect for the photographers and the lengths that people will go to for us to see images of issues affecting people around the world.

Lesson learned: look with open eyes and look at the images in context!

Thanks for stopping.

Jim Jimmy James.


  1. I think it is good to occasionally state that, ‘The Emperor has no new clothes on, and is in fact, naked. I feel much the same about Picasso. I just don’t see it, but I am not allowed to have a negative opinion though, because he is a ‘genius’. (Apparently)
    As for Mr Bailey, I cannot stand him as a person, though I will admit that he is an accomplished portrait photographer. It always looks very staged though, and lacks heart. I also consider that he has assistants, and has had ever since he became famous. Someone to load the camera, someone to change the lens, someone to arrange the lights, someone to tell him how great he is…He just has to turn up and click. Many will not agree, but so what?
    The war photos on that Serbian photographer’s link are just stunning. There are some real classics in there, and some amazing composition, given the fighting that was going on at the time. (The other link won’t work- for me anyway)
    The students are so conditioned to study ‘The Greats’, that any criticism of them borders on sacrilege. I wouldn’t worry about it mate, and I am very sure that you don’t. Good post!
    Take care Jimmy. Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Hey Pete,
      As someone that I’ve only ever known to speak his mind I find your reply reassuring.
      Thank you for letting me know about the link, I will have a look.
      Tomasevic’s work is stunning and in my mind he should have been the outright winner of the world press awards.

      As always thank you for your input.

      Ps. Pete meet Caz, one of my fellow students.

  2. We newbies definitely have an opinion, though whether we feel brave enough to air it is another matter! Whilst it might not be as informed as that of someone with more knowledge and experience, it may be fresher and less influenced by the ‘right’ thing to say. Besides, our appreciation of photography is very subjective and whilst we may acknowledge someone’s talent, we might not like their style or the images they produce. Glad you still feel free to express your opinion on the matter!

    1. What is the worst that can happen. Okay I could get slagged of by David Bailey but then I’d just have to capitalise on that and use it as a tag line.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Ps. Caz meet beetleypete, an old friend that I used to work with. He didn’t know it until now but in 96 as a young impressionable newbie to my job his influences along with other “old hands” goes much further than he/they will probably ever know.

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