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The musician and the photographer

There is a famous mountain in the Lofoten Islands, images of which pop up everywhere. And when I was there at the beginning of the year there would always be a dozen or so photographers lined up on a bridge every morning and evening to take near identical photos of this mountain. This happens a lot now in photography, where organised trips take budding photographers to all the highlights a country has to offer to recreate an image that has already been taken a thousand times (ice gems on black sand in Iceland, anyone?).

Many people might be dismissive of this, deriding the photographers for not doing anything original. They're just repeating what has already been done before by the more successful photographers out there. But I don't think this is fair, and is even a bit snobbish.

I was thinking about this the other day while looking at my guitar, which I've played for over 20 years now. Like most people who want to learn the guitar, I started off by playing (or trying to) the music that I listened to, as it was the music that inspired me to learn in the first place. It's a good place to start, you already know the tune, you just need to learn the technique so what comes out of your guitar starts to sound like the tune in your head. Buying the guitar tablature helps even more, it gives a specially notated guide on how to recreate each exact note, just as the original guitarist played it.

But ultimately, all you are doing is recreating something that someone has already done before, and this is what most people who play the guitar do. If you're good, you could try and make it as a cover act playing in bars or wedding venues, but it is always someone else's music. But equally, no one would ever deride you for this, usually you would get quite the opposite response, In fact, if you were able to play just like Jimi Hendrix, you would probably garner a lot of respect, no one would ever write you off as a mere imitation.

And this is just what those photographers are doing (and myself, I also have images of ice gems in my past work). They've all seen great, inspiring images, and wanting to know how to recreate those amazing works, go to the same locations, to dissect it and learn for themselves how that particular shot was taken.

We can't all be cutting edge photographers, shooting in never before seen locations. The world is a finite place, and travel is become easier and easier. People also don't have the time to explore for themselves, your holiday time is limited, and could easily be wasted scouting out a country you've never been to before, so an organised trip often makes a lot of sense.

But just like a musician, if you're lucky to make a career at it, you need to write your own music, and that means finding your own voice in photography. You don't always need to go to the ends of the earth to do this, you just need to be creative and find new angles on old subjects.

Of course, it's hard to break away from the photography that influenced us, it's what we know, and to do something new takes great skill, much like modern day music. If you're one of the lucky ones that has the ability to stand out from the pack, be grateful for that, and always remember that you too were once an amateur, recreating images already taken someone more successful.


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