Every student of photography will have their own list of favourite photographers. Perhaps we live in the hope that a well crafted list will somehow reflect well on our own ‘maturity’ as a photographer. Bathing in the light of a famous photographer, citing a photographer as an ‘early influence’, having a selfie with a well-known photographer – Ha! I guess we have all done it. At the very least, I plead guilty …
But it’s one thing to vacuously associate yourself with other photographers and quite another to study their pictures deeply. We all learn by copying. Bach used to make the point that he educated himself and learned how to make music by studying the work of other composers. My Aikido teacher, Ezra-Shihan, used to tell me ‘try and steal what that teacher has and make it our own’. He did not mean ‘steal a technique’. He meant ‘steal his aura’.
Mimesis has a long history of usage from Plato all the way to modern philosophers and over that time the term has acquired a range of meanings. In this context I am drawn not to the usual sense of the word as mimicry but to its sense as ‘receptivity’.
It is in this sense that I like to relate to other photographers. It is not a question of plagiarising someone else’s photographs. It’s more a question of being receptive to their vision, to how they see. It’s not about the specific content or referent of the photograph, a face for example, but more about how they saw that face, its sense.
I keep a list of pictures that I admire on pinterest which I add to and take away from quite often. It is drawn from a wide range of styles and techniques and eras. Looking at them frequently and editing/ re-organising them increases my receptivity to them.