A few people recently have complimented me (online and in person) on my gastronaut posts. Obviously it’s gratifying when people you’ve never met before point out that they like what you’re writing, but what puzzles me a little is when people say how impressed they are with the food photography. I’m puzzled because, of all the photos I take, these are the ones which involve the least thought, creativity or technical skill. The restaurant provides the subject matter (also taking care of composition for me) and the lighting. All I have to do is point and click (I use the smaller of my two cameras, for practical reasons). I can understand that people think the result looks lovely, but I can hardly take the credit for that.
But the point of this post is not just “aw, shucks” false modesty – for me the fact that people respond to these pictures says something more interesting about what constitutes good photography. My favourite photos vary quite a bit in style, and the things I respond to in an image range from a certain quality of light to the capture of a facial expression to the kind of creative image-making which involves all sorts of other skills from art direction to Photoshop. People like Pierre et Gilles or Joel-Peter Witkin will expend enormous efforts to create a whole new world for their photographs, while Cartier-Bresson would simply roam the streets and whip out his Leica when something caught his eye.
As regards my own style of photography (assuming I have one), I think it mostly involves just noticing things. Taking pictures over a long period of time has changed the way I look at the world, making me pay more attention to my visual environment. It’s got to the point where when I spot something, sometimes it doesn’t even matter if I take the shot or not. It’s enough that I’ve learnt how to see better.