On the rare occasion that I chat with other photographers, sometimes the topic of influences comes up. It’s an interesting question, which I’ve recently realised goes deeper than it appears. In interviews, in forums, on blogs, etc etc, people seem to be all too willing to trot out their influences. Such as, in a hushed tone, “Ansell”, or H.C-B, or . I do wonder though, if people distinguish between influences, and heroes. Heroes, or role models, or whatever the appropriate description is, being people we look up to and dream of emulating. This can take many forms. I was once on a workshop with a well known “personality” photographer, and it was quite remarkable that a good proportion of the participants not only had exactly the same (new out of the box) cameras as the Great Leader, but aspired to drive the same car, drink the same wine, etc. The photography seemed irrelevant. And then there are the more straightforward aspirants, such as the pilgrims who gather by their hundreds in Yosemite to reproduce faithfully - or at least as faithfully as they can, without getting more than 10m from the car park - Ansell’s famous works. They would, doubtless, claim that Adams is an influence.
Currently, in British landscape photography circles, which I guess I’m vaguely associated with by passport if nothing else, the namedropping very frequently includes David Ward. And indeed why not - his work is sublime, and in my opinion is one of a very, very small band who takes landscape photography to the level of art rather than craft. I’ve named him as an influence myself, but looking at my archives dispassionately, I find it very hard to spot any influence. A few clumsy attempts at simulation, yes. But influence? In my dreams.
So how did this flash of enlightenment come about?
Well over 10 years ago, when I was in an intensive phase of exploring landscape photography, I devoured books by various photographers, including John Shaw, Andy Rouse, Andris Apse, Craig Potton, Joe Cornish, Lee Frost, Peter Watson, and a host of others. But perhaps most of all Charlie Waite. Charlie Waite was at the time at name pretty much on everybody’s lips, but these says, his star seems to have faded a bit, with tastes turning more to the more dramatic, windswept styles of Joe Cornish and his host of disciples, and the more overtly artistic / philosophical approach of David Ward. And my Charlie Books gathered dust.
But a few weeks ago I remembered that he had recently published a new book, Arc & Line, and on a whim I ordered it.
Opening it up I found a revelation: this was the style I’d been unconsciously emulating, with a mixture of urban, travel and landscape scenes, also ignoring the “rule” that says you can’t photograph landscape in full daylight. Now, I’m no Charlie Waite, but reviewing his work now after a hiatus of 8 years ago, it seems quite clear to me that he has been a strong influence on my approach. I can see now where some of my better formed ideas come from. There are many other photographers that I might have wanted to “be” more, but finally, I could do a lot worse than recognizing Charlie Waite as a clear influence on my photography.