Friday, February 05, 2010

The "Kitchen Sink" photographer

click photo to enlarge
A couple of days ago I was reading a piece by a photographer. It was reasonably interesting until I got to the part where he mentioned the importance of "finding your own voice". At that point I gave up on him, because it's something I've never been able to take seriously. The idea of developing until you create your own unique and identifiable style is promulgated by those who like to see themselves as the gatekeepers of the higher levels of photography - bodies such as The Royal Photographic Society - as well as by many photographers, photographic critics, and writers on the subject. For those who aren't familiar with this concept I discussed it briefly in a post in early 2008. Here's what I wrote then:

"This idea is adapted from fine art criticism, and goes something like this. When you start out in photography you take snaps, then as your interest and skill grows you re-create technically sound well-known genre (some would say cliche) images, and finally, if you make the ultimate leap, you produce artistic, original images each including an element of a style that you have created: your work becomes recognisable by your particular "signature".

I don't rubbish this theory lightly, or from a position of ignorance - I have a lifelong interest in art, the history of art, and photography, and even have academic qualifications in these areas. I am scathing about it because, whilst it might be a theory that can be, retrospectively but artificially, applied to many painters and photographers, and it undoubtedly does accurately describe the progress of others, it is nonetheless very easy to find eminent practitioners whose career zenith involves producing very disparate pieces of work, for whom the idea of a single identifiable "signature" style is anathema. It is not a "one size fits all" description of a photographers development, nor should it be held up as a model to consciously emulate.

The other week, as I was reading about Britain's "angry young men" in David Kynaston's "Family Britain 1951-57," the seed of an idea was planted that has a bearing on on what I've just written. The novelists and playwrights of that period, people such as John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, Terence Rattigan and Alan Sillitoe, were seen as producing work rooted in anger, alienation, the feeling of being an outsider, and this phrase was coined to describe them. I recalled that in the 1960s the angry young men's view of the world, and the low-key, domestic and provincial subjects that they addressed in print, was transferred to television plays that became known as "kitchen sink drama". And that phrase strongly resounded in my head. Perhaps, I thought, I could find my own voice as the "kitchen sink photographer"! After all, I'd already started down that road with the triptych that I posted on the last day of 2009. That very same evening, as I washed up the dishes, my second "kitchen sink" image appeared before my eyes. I'd splashed some water on a metal tray that had the residue of olive oil on it, and as the two liquids fought each other, the light bouncing off the water's irregular convex meniscus, I saw the shot.

So, when I burst upon the photographic scene as the chronicler of the drama, light, shade and essential dampnessness that is the kitchen sink, you'll know that I've succumbed to that dreaded theory, I've finally "found my own voice", and I am condemned to photographing nothing but soap suds, gravy stains and pan scrubs. Until that disconcerting day arrives you'll have to put up with the usual mixed and motley rubbish!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On