Is This The End of The Beginning?


Hi. Come on over and take a seat with me, just here on this ledge. Hang your legs and let them swing as we gaze over the void beyond, sat here perched on the edge of what feels like a pre-midlife crisis. A sense of confusion, frustration, and doubt has been brewing for some time now, and I think it's time to start approaching it head-on,  calling it out for what it is and try and make some sense of what has been, and what potentially lay instore.

We find ourselves not only at the end of another year, but at the end of a decade, and one for me personally that has seen so much personal change and development. This is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the years that have passed and look ahead to a currently unknown future. This happens to be a "happy" coincidence, as the timing of this new year has coincided perfectly with my own personal feelings of doubt and confusion about what it is I want to do with myself.

Thank you for joining me in my little self-therapy session. I hope you don't mind helping me straighten out some of these thoughts and feelings I have, as I attempt to somehow rationalize the journey that many have been kind enough to join me on. For a while now I have had this uneasy feeling building inside of me that something has changed, even as I type this I feel somewhat anxious and uncomfortable. These nauseous sensations were given some validation today when I stumbled upon three videos on YouTube that really struck a chord with me and articulated these feelings with such unequivocal accuracy that I actually felt a little emotional.

The videos I refer to are by Sean Tucker, a photographer who has a deep and almost philosophical approach towards the art and manages to evoke self-contemplation as I have never before experienced. The first of these videos were actually not focused on him much at all, save for his introduction, but featured an interview with Rachael Talibart, a professional photographer who shoots seascapes after leaving her lucrative career as a city lawyer. Rachael's story was truly incredible and one of courage and determination moving from a highly paid and respectable career to being the successful artist she is today. A lot of the feelings she experienced in her earlier career resonated with me entirely; I instantly recognized and sympathized with her situation and was truly gripped by her words.

The second of these videos was about Instagram, and this wasn't your typical guide of do's and don'ts, but actually quite the opposite. In this video, Sean basically explains that the normal rules of the social media hungry world we live in is a rigged game for photographers, and in fact, as an artist, you should avoid falling into this trap and instead dance to your own tune. I once loved Instagram as a platform, but since embarking on a new era of conscious growth and striving to be seen in the crowd, I have been actually turned me off of it altogether, and I now actually find it increasingly more and more difficult to find any motivation for curating my Insta account.

Both Sean, and Rachael Talibart in the video before both describe their posting behaviors as the complete opposite of what I had been training myself to do, and this was entirely liberating. This liberation came with a price though, it just pulled me down knowing that I have wasted so much time doing something I have not wanted to do over the last 12 months. The roller coaster of emotions was not quite finished there, without seeking another enlightening moment, I clicked on another video on the channel and was metaphorically slapped in the face with the reality of my current situation.

The third video was all about a photographer's style; what that means, how you develop it and how to nurture it. Again, this is not a 'how-to', as of course, it is something entirely personal. In this video, Sean explains how his style is somewhat undefined, or, perhaps more accurately, that he is unable to comfortably articulate what it is. And he is an accomplished professional photographer.

The combination of these three videos had a compounding effect on me and made me think hard about my present situation. In the past few months, I have been struggling to remain motivated by my photography, not through a loss of desire to capture images, because I do genuinely love to do this, but because I have reached a point where I do not want to take photographs of just any old thing.

I recently spent the day shooting around Pimlico, Battersea, and Vauxhall attempting to capture the development of my favorite building in London, Battersea Power Station but struggled even then to feel properly energized and motivated by the task. How could this be?

The desire to grab my camera and rush out the door has diminished to a level I do not recognize, forcing me to question if I have just had a lucky run, and is the true reality that I have just been playing around with it. Having reflected quite deeply on the messages from the excellent content gathered today, I have come to the realization that it is because I am focusing too much on the photography itself, and not on the photographer I want to be. It has now become obvious that the reason I don't feel like taking photos willy nilly anymore isn't that I don't want to take them, but because I want them to matter to me.

So what does matter to me then? I have no idea. It's easy to focus on the things we dislike because these kinds of thoughts and feelings are always stronger and more pronounced. For instance, the thought of being a wedding photographer producing glamorously posed and pretty shots quite literally makes me feel like losing my lunch, much like someone with extreme vertigo considering being a parachute instructor. But if you were to ask the question 'what do you want to do then?' you would receive a wholly blank expression in return.

The development of a personal style in my art is going to be a long time in the making, but the acknowledgment of this stage for me symbolizes the end of the beginning. The days of taking pictures of anything interesting (or not) that catches my eye are well and truly over, and the journey towards being a considered and thoughtful artist with direction and purpose begins. Naturally, the world isn't quite as cut and dry as this, and I have already noticed my choice of when and what I shoot already becoming dramatically more selective than it used to be. But still, what is it that I want to say through my work?

To help focus the mind, and to celebrate the journey thus far, I thought we would apt reflect not only on the last year, but on the last few years, and mark the turn of this decade with past achievements. For this, we must go back to 2015, when, much to my own surprise, I discovered that I actually quite liked taking pictures.

I didn't own a camera then and was shooting simply with a Samsung camera phone. Away on a trip to Istanbul, it was decided by my partner Claire, that I should take the pictures for the trip because her iPhone was vastly inferior to the camera in my phone (something's never change!). I had never visited a city like this before, certainly not with the intention of properly exploring it and taking in the city; before then, I had only ever been on typical 'beach' type holidays which were focused on doing leisure activities, or simply relaxing.

Galata Tower - Samsung S6

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Istanbul Market Stall - Samsung S6

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I quickly found that I enjoyed the process of capturing photographs on this trip as opposed to holiday snapshots. Without even noticing it, something came alive in me and pushed myself to take the best photos I could, without any guidance or instruction. Perhaps I was just trying to impress the new woman in my life, which may be partly true, but this expression of showmanship unlocked something within that shows no sign of stopping. 

Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, Berlin - Samsung S6

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Istanbul was soon followed by a trip to Berlin, where my desire to capture unique and interesting images was starting to solidify. I still couldn't be entirely sure if this was going to be simply a passing fad and wanted to explore and learn more about the art. Making do with the camera on my phone still, I tried a number of different clip-on lenses and other paraphernalia, and at the time thought I was getting by ok.

We then roll into 2016, visiting both Venice and Rome, and despite the beauty of these destinations, I couldn't help but feel I could have done better with my photography. It was time now for me to buy a camera and learn how to take proper photographs. A very good friend of mine had been a hobby photographer for some time, so I turned to him for advice on which camera I should buy. His recommendation, the Sony Rx100 iV.

This compact camera doesn't look like much for it is as described, a small point and shoot camera with a fixed zoom lens and a small sensor. At the time it was a £1k camera, so much more than just small change, and I've got to say to this day I still wish I still owned this camera. With full manual functionality and with such high-quality images for its size, the Rx100 defies logic for such a small camera. 

This camera came with me to Vietnam and Copenhagen and was a faithful companion, but I had this constant feeling of being held back. The lack of an interchangeable lens mount frustrated me, and I felt this limitation preventing me from fully developing in my photography. I had an urge to explore beyond the limited focal range and perhaps put some comforting distance between myself and my subjects. 

Copenhagen - RX100 iV

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Ha Long Bay - RX 100 iV

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After around 6 months of ownership with the amazing compact camera, I begrudgingly sold it to buy my next Sony, this time the cropped sensor A6000. At this stage, I thought I knew far more than I actually did, and looking back now I cringe at the confidence I had in myself, but the reality is I was still a long way from properly understanding how it all worked. Up until this point, I had been doing rather well, but the quality of my images took a backward step during a trip to Krakow in November of that year.

That Christmas, we ventured to Scotland and the quality of the images improved, perhaps because I was getting more comfortable with the new camera. I was, however, a little disappointed by the level of grain produced by the cropped sensor of the A6000, largely as a consequence of the bad weather. With exceedingly high winds and rain, the option of shooting with a tripod was totally out of the question, and the light was really bad, so I was riding the ISO pretty hard most of the time. Was this little issue enough to warrant changing cameras again?

The Cloth Hall, Krakow - Sony A6000

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Glen Nevis, Scotland - Sony A6000

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Well, it must have been. By February of 2017, I was now the very proud owner of my first full-frame camera, the Sony A7 ii. And what a year of photography this was to be.

I was now far more comfortable with the concept of photography and the operation of my camera, everything started to come together nicely. Starting off with a return trip to Berlin, followed later in the year with a trip back to Asia, visiting Laos and Cambodia I was now becoming much happier with the whole process and very pleased with the results of my images. It was also becoming apparent to me that I much preferred my shots to include some sort of human element as a point of interest and complete the image.

The Bayon, Cambodia - Sony A7 ii

The Bayon - Angkor Thom

Teufelsburg, Berlin - Sony A7 ii

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I had by this time started to use Lightroom and Photoshop instead of editing the images on my phone, and so began a whole new learning experience. To this day, I find my post-processing fluctuates slightly with each set of images, and I know I have a long way to go to find what works for me, but that would be an entirely new story in itself.

I was then asked to photograph a friend's wedding, something that was totally daunting but turned out to be quite a fun experience. She had been following my work quite closely, and you could say is one of my biggest supporters, so she knew and understood the type of images I capture which suited her more relaxed wedding day. 

A trip to the Big Apple promptly followed, where I was able to fall back into my comfort zone. This was my first time visiting this city of giants, and I was in awe!  

Skater Girl, NYC - Sony A7 ii

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By now I was shooting more consistently and feeling increasingly happier with the results of my work, but still of the understanding that there was much more room for improvement. I was now being asked to shoot events by friends and family; a photoshoot of my aunt's farm animals as a Christmas gift, my sister's baby reveal, family portraits for my cousin, all of which brought new challenges. I was then asked if I could stand in to replace the photographer for a prog-rock gig as their regular photographer had dropped out, which was to be my biggest mental obstacle. 

The very fact that they had a photographer lined up said to me that the images they were looking for had some degree of importance. I, who had plenty of experience shooting street scenes, landscapes and architecture had never shot in a gig environment before. I actually thought long and hard about accepting the shoot for fear of failure, but inevitably excepted the challenge as a development exercise. 

This was a nerve-racking experience, but I threw everything I had into it, and the results actually weren't all that bad. The bands certainly seemed to think so, and since that single shoot, I have been asked back time and time again to shoot the various bands I have picked up along the way. I had no idea that my photography would take me in this direction, but it does happen to be something I quite enjoy and seemed to slip very comfortably into the process.

The Gift - Sony A6000

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Queensferry, Scotland - Sony A7 ii

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It was during this period on my journey that I started to feel more than just someone who is just taking pictures, and could legitimately consider myself a photographer. I actually had a fairly hard time even admitting to myself that I was actually an artist, and the purpose of my work was more than documentation. It doesn't actually feel all that long ago that I had a conscious thought in my mind that I am an artist and this should be embraced. It might sound silly to most, but this was an actually battled in my mind, to which I gave resistance but eventually agreed and accepted the notion.  

Another trip to Scotland closes out the year, and then here we are in 2018. What would be another busy year of photography, and the introduction of yet another camera?

I was very mindful that I had neglected my own city of London and set out to right this wrong by spending more time shooting here, after all, it is on my doorstep and it would a shame not to put the skills I had been developing to use and capture it through my own eyes.  

Bank, London - Sony A7 ii

A sneak preview into my new LDN project where I am trying to see the city through my lens as I would on my travels. It's a real challenge trying to photograph scenes I see virtually everyday, but as one of the greatest cities in the world is on my doorstep I feel I should document it in my own style. This shot depicts a quiet Royal Exchange outside the Bank of England.

Docklands, London - Sony A7 ii

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The LDN project is still ongoing to this day, and we'll return to it again later. Since early 2018 I have frequently ventured into the city at varying times of the year to build up a portfolio of the events and sites here and generally document my take on the city. It has not been an easy process, and I do really struggle to see the city objectively. Having lived and worked here all my life, I very lazily recognize all the bad and struggle to see the good as I would do when visiting other lands. 

Early 2018 also brought a return trip to the beauty that is Venice, this time with a semi-professional camera, which was an absolute joy. I could spend days on end wandering the narrow streets and canals shooting this Italian wonder. With only a few brief days of shooting, I still feel that I have not done the city the justice it deserves, and so must return one day.

Venice - Sony A7 ii

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Venice - Sony A 7ii

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Fortunately, a business trip offered me a whole 24 hours to shoot Paris, which was handy as I had no real intentions of visiting there personally. With all my trips there is a sense of urgency, as my time on location is restricted to the time I have there, but with only 24 hours to shoot as much as I could, the pressure was really on this time.

I was actually quite surprised by the images I managed to capture here in such a short period of time, so much so that one of the images (below left) became part of an initial collection of images printed in limited edition. I suppose you could say that the lesson here is that quality images can be produced anywhere if you look hard enough, regardless of your feelings towards the location. 

Paris - Sony A7 ii

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Paris - Sony A7 ii

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The year later followed with a big trip across the Atlantic to Havana, bookended by a stay on a resort in Mexico and 48 hours back in NYC. Of all of these destinations, Havana really stood out to me for a number of reasons, firstly because it is an incredible destination which constantly surprised and amazed. Secondly, and more importantly, for the purposes of this conversation, it was a moment of exceptional self-validation.

I can clearly remember standing on a street corner of the bustling city, surrounded by the roaring and grunting of the American classics, the warm glow of the sun upon my skin and the feel of my cameras grip in my palm that I knew this is what I wanted to be doing more than anything in the world. Stood there in that moment, I had a little smile to myself and a feeling that is difficult to put into words. 

Chichen Itza - Sony A7 ii

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NYC - Sony A7 ii

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Havana, Cuba - Sony A7 ii

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Stood there at that moment, with local city life buzzing around me I felt whole, quite possibly for the first time in my existence. Christ, this sounds ridiculous, but it is the truth, and my failure to deny it, or ignore it would be a failure to myself. Taking photographs of foreign and lands is what makes me truly happy. 

By now, I was frequently out shooting a number of bands at various locations across London, but more noteworthy at this juncture was the shooting of A New Day festival for The Gift. Furnished with an 'all areas' pass I had access to both stages (it's not a massive festival)  and backstage, which was a great experience and added some variety to my now quickly growing music portfolio. 

A New Day Festival - Sony A7 ii

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A New Day Festival - Sony A7 ii

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Towards the end of the year, another friend requested I shoot their wedding, so another stressful experience, but one that was successful none the less. This period also coincided with the start of this very blog, something that I was very apprehensive about committing to in the beginning, but now find it to be a great way to diarise my travels, and generally get things out of my head.

Predictably, this is when I made my 3rd camera upgrade, adding the Sony A7 iii to my arsenal, where I remain to this day. This rapid and seemingly reckless purchasing of equipment has all be made for very good reasons (so I like to believe anyway) with each upgrade satisfying a specific need I have identified in my shooting. I do now recognize that my focus should be on glass and quality ancillary equipment, and look back now on my progression as being comparative to a sexually maturing teenager with eager fumbling hands, not a particularly pleasing vision I know. 

The year followed with a trip to Vienna, and onto Budapest, a story of two halves as the former was plagued by unfavorable, and the latter with stunning weather. Here I found myself pushing to another level, seeking to obtain a higher standard in my photography. With no way of actually measuring this, or more accurately, not setting myself any goals or discernable deliverables, I cannot say for sure if this was achieved. 

Budapest - Sony A7 iii

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Docklands, London - Sony A7 iii

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This brings us to the year in which we find ourselves at the time of writing, the end of a decade, and the end of the beginning. I had made so many promises to myself that I would shoot more and push myself into a whole new league, but I can't help but feel I missed the mark. 

The year had a flying start, with a day I took for myself to continue my LDN project, focusing once again around the Docklands area, with a particular shot in mind of the Millenium Dome. The day was a resounding success, with one of the images (left) making it into my collection of limited edition prints; I still look back on the day fondly but have been unable to replicate it since. 

Canary Wharf - Sony A7 iii

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2019 was fairly limited in terms of travel in comparison with other years, largely due to the cost of the first trip and the declining health of our poor cat. Still, the first trip we had booked near the beginning of the year brought with it a surprise for me when visiting Athens. As with Havana the previous year, I found myself stood upon at the Acropolis shortly after opening, filled with the same feeling of validation I had experienced before.  

Once again, I had this sense of excitement and pleasure as I stood in the open space of the Acropolis, this time in near isolation. Beating the crowds to this glorious sight knowing that I was amongst a lucky few who get to experience such a grand sight without the battle of huge crowds of visitors.

Athens, Greece - Sony A7 iii

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Santorini, Greece - Sony A7 iii

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My work with bands continued to grow from strength to strength, and when I was asked to carry out some promotional shots for one of them I jumped at the opportunity, and challenge. Having been given very limited time, in a pretty grim location, I carried out the work and delivered results that were greatly received by all involved. I actually quite surprised myself. 

The Gift (Composite) - Sony A7 iii

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The second trip of the year which included stops in Dubrovnik, Montenegro and Mostar was another huge success, and I think that feeling of pushing myself to a higher level finally came through in my work. I found the results from this trip to have pushed through these boundaries that I can feel and sense but do not have the intellect to verbalize or describe.

Dubrovnik, Croatia - Sony A7 iii

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Perast, Montenegro - Sony A7 iii

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These small punctuations throughout the year are just that, small and relatively fleeting; the year was not the big breakthrough year I had hoped it would be, which brings us back to our earlier ponderings, and this sense of artistic limbo. Like I said before, it's not for a lack of wanting to shoot, because these desires have been so clearly validated over the course of the last couple of years, but there is something missing. As elusive as a wildcat, this sense is lingering deep within my mind and I cannot quite put my finger on it. 

I had hoped that this process of reflection of my previous works and the achievements I have made in this relatively short period of time would shine a spotlight in the shadows and reveal with striking clarity the form of this empty feeling, but alas it has not. 

I can ascertain from my experiences that I enjoy a variety of shooting, but leaning more towards city/land/seascapes and street photography, and the event/music work. As for a particular style? I still have no idea, I am still waving frantically in the dark for the answer.  

Studying the works of successful photographers is often sighted as a good way of learning and developing, but for reasons of good, or ill, I have consciously decided not to do this so as not to be led into copying the work of others. Has this been a mistake? I would cautiously suggest that there is no concise answer to that question and cling to the path I have chosen in the hope it is the right one for me. 

Still, a new year is fast approaching, and this year has a hidden meaning which I intend to fully adopt to my advantage. Such as with perfect vision, we are entering the year 20 20, and I will not allow myself to lose sight of the one activity that brings me the most pleasure in life. As the year unfolds I will gain some clarity on the photographer and even the man I want to be, hopefully. 

A big thanks for stopping by during this episode of self-contemplation and reflection. I recognize it is entirely self-indulgent, but it's much easier for me to spill it out here with you than to lock it into a closed loop in my mind. If you are on your own personal journey, I would very much like to hear how you deal with junctures you meet and how you overcome them. Please do feel free to comment below and join the conversation.

If you want to view the videos that started it all check out the links below; I do advise with caution however, there is some powerful stuff within:

Finding a Direction for your Photography (feat. Rachael Talibart)

Instagram: Straight Talk for Photographers

Defining a Style for your Photography

I will sign off for now wishing you all a very happy new year and all the best in your journey, wherever it is you intend to get to in life.


  • Billy Shaw

    on December 28, 2019

    Whew that was an interesting marathon.

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