I haven’t written at all about the Magnum Workshop I went to in Fremantle in March. I was meaning to, but then Lucy got sick and there was a ginormous issue at work and life just seemed to derail for awhile. For the first two weeks after I got back I didn’t pick up a camera, let alone go shoot anything. It’s not that the workshop wasn’t a fantastic experience – it was. It just that once I was back, it seemed that it took all of my energy just to get through a day.
I did work at the workshop that I never thought I could do. Not that it was great work, mind you. I don’t think it was. But it was something so, so different for me: a series of environmental portraits of customers at a barbershop in town. The project didn’t start off as portraits, but that’s where it went over the course of the week. And so I found myself interacting with my subjects, asking if it was OK to take their photos, getting closer to them than I’d ever gotten with a camera. It was the kind of work I’d always wanted to do but never been quite brave enough to do.
Yesterday I went to Marrickville as part of another workshop I’m taking and I amazed myself. I was stopping people and asking to take their pictures, asking them to stand here where there was a better background, interacting with them in ways I never had before. It was hard, each time, to take that first step, that first approach: “Excuse me…” But I fucking loved it. And the images I got were not like anything I’d ever done before. I’m not saying they were great or even good, but when I looked at them I knew it. This is what my work should be. And I think it was the Magnum workshop – the exposure to photographers like Trent Parke and Donovan Wylie – that let me make that breakthrough.
I have always wanted to take photos of people, but I have always been too afraid. I can remember when I was about 13, taking a picture of a hanging sign for the Westport Bank & Trust and thinking, “Wow. I don’t have to take pictures of people to do photography”. When I picked up photography again, around 2002, I focused on landscapes, on urban decay, on things. And while that’s obviously a valid choice of subject, to me it always felt like I was somehow lying to myself. Because that really wasn’t what I wanted to photograph at all.
Now I just have to keep on going.