What am I?

Personal 9 Apr 09

The other week I photographed a rally, Families for Justice. They were protesting so that they could get justice for their loved ones. It was emotional as the people there had lost people they loved. People cried and some people were very vocal. I’ve photographed the Hillsborough Memorial event over the past few years and its always been hard to do. How am I supposed to point my camera and get a good photo of someone crying over the death of someone they loved? Its so intrusive. At least it feels that way. But I’ve read about war photographers, specifically James Natchway. He’s incredible. He reminds me why its important to take these photos though. Its to show the world that it happened in the hope that it makes a difference. You tell someone that this happened and its some words. You show them a photo of someone crying and it affects them. One photo can change the world. So its important to take photographs.

But then what am I? My main source of income is commercial photography, not photojournalism.

Modern Liverpool

Am I an architectural photographer?

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Am I a commercial photographer?

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Am I a portrait photographer?

Kinetic Fallacy

Music?

Sunset at Storeton

Landscapes?

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A photo-journalist?

I can do architecture, landscapes, portraits, gigs, documentary and photojournalism. I would love to have Joe McNally’s job, who wouldn’t eh.  Commercial work is fun because its often quite creative and allows me to flex those muscles. However, photojournalism is my passion. Its real. Its so damn real. Its all about life. The power of people. Our ability to be our best and worst documented in one single photo. But then I also love playing with architecture. Angles, contrasts, light, the precision of it all. I love, but am also scared by, portraiture. Capturing someone in that moment of their life. The simple beauty in a face. The story behind that person. Its great.

Its something I’ve struggled with for a few years now. What am I? Where am I going? Do I continue to pursue commercial photography? Do I give it all up and try to be a photojournalist? Do I just carry on in the hope that all these skills will give me something that I can use in some way? Maybe I can pour them all into something. Is it best to focus on something and be great at that instead of good at a few things? By focusing on one thing theres a risk of missing out in other areas.

I asked Twitter what am I known for. The response was something I expected. I really appreciated peoples replies but they confirmed a worry.

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I’m known for 2 things really. Photograhping Liverpool and producing HDR images. Thats a worry. Bob Carlos Clarke is known for sexy erotic b&w photos. Joe McNally for fantastic portraits. James Natchway for war photography. Andy Rouse for wildlife. Even Edward Chambre-Hardman for portraits and scenes in Liverpool. My worry is that HDR is a technique. Its something that can be applied to many photographs. Its like b&w. Photographers are known for their use of b&w on a subject, like Bob Carlos Clarke or Ansel Adams. People want photos of buildings perhaps with the level of detail HDR can give you, but they’re not going to want someone who can do HDR. They’ll want someone who can photograph something well. HDR, b&w, etc, are techniques that are applied to a subject. Its the subject thats important. Architecture, landscapes, portraits, documentary, etc.

The other thing I’m known for is Liverpool. Liverpool is one hell of a subject. Music, street, architecture, landscapes, cityscapes, ships, people, documentary, everything. Its a city and it holds so many photos in it waiting to be taken. Its a fantastic place for photography and I love it to bits. However, as a photographer I wouldn’t say that I photograph Liverpool and do HDR. I say I photograph people and places.  The classic response is “Do you do weddings?”

So to try and tie up these thoughts, what am I? A few years ago when I discussed turning professional I was reminded that you need to find your niche and own it. Over the years I’ve found what I don’t enjoy photographing and what I love to photograph. Thats why I love Liverpool as it has everything right there, besides dramatic mountains like Vancouver. I asked this question a few years ago and people told me to shoot what I love and be happy. I’ve been doing so and I love it but there’s always this worry. What am I? Am I on the right path?

by

Photographer and part time Spider-man.

Comments 15

  1. Kitten says on 9 Apr 09

    I see where you’re coming from. I was one of the people who said Liverpool was one of the things you’re best known for. But what you might not appreciate from that is that essentially what I meant was summed up in this :

    “Liverpool is one hell of a subject. Music, street, architecture, landscapes, cityscapes, ships, people, documentary, everything. Its a city and it holds so many photos in it waiting to be taken. Its a fantastic place for photography and I love it to bits. However, as a photographer I wouldn’t say that I photograph Liverpool and do HDR. I say I photograph people and places.”

    You don’t take flat 2 dimensional photographs of a place, or buildings or anything else. You take photographs of LIVERPOOL. Liverpool the city, the passion, the heart, the beauty, the crap, the sadness, the hurt, the belief, the love, the hate, all of that. You’re seeing the word Liverpool as something singular. I’m seeing it as encompassing all of those things above, and for that I think you should be bloody proud of yourself.

  2. Kitten says on 9 Apr 09

    Oh…forgot to say. You do own that area. No-one does Liverpool quite like you :)

  3. Brian Roberts says on 9 Apr 09

    Very interesting reading this as now I’ve had chance to pause and review the last six months I’ve had very similar thoughts about what I do too.

    Just over a year ago I was happy doing landscapes. On reflection they’re pretty poor but it gave me an outlet for doing photography. Then I got invited to do the Cage Gladiators last March and it completely changed what I wanted to do.

    I feel I’ve become a photographer of events (broad term to cover music, cage glads, weddings and other events) and found something I both enjoy and get more reaction from others. But then I wonder am I trying to be a jack of all trades and not doing something really properly (well to my abilities anyway).

    I’ve kind of found a bit of a niche with the Cage Gladiator things in that it’s a bit different but there’s little money in it. A magazine wanted to use a couple of images today in return for a credit, and that was it.

    I look at other people’s picture and think wow and it both inspires and depresses me! I’ve been going through Mark McNulty’s book this week and the depth to his work is just stunning. Very absorbing to read about how he got there and how well he has done. And then I think if I could do anything like that that’s different…hmmmmm.

    I also start thinking about Manchester and having no profile whatsoever there (and I’ve only got a small profile in Liverpool too). I look at my site on Google Analytics and most of my views are from London, not Liverpool, and yet see nothing directly from it.

    Had an interesting chat last night with Matt where he thought I was doing the better thing of building up a portfolio before going self employed and I thought he’d done the better thing of going for it.

    I hate having to sell myself and do the business stuff, I watch things like The Apprentice and cringe. But then again, it has to be done but it’s not what I feel comfortable with at all.

    Very interesting what you’ve put down, and you’ve got a much bigger and better profile than mine, and interesting to evaluate things. With your books things may well change for you and open up new paths.

    I was lucky to meet Eamonn McCabe last year and I asked him about how to make progress and he said to keep on doing what you want to do, sooner or later it will come good – could well be good advice.

  4. Norbert Avaya says on 9 Apr 09

    Nice blog Peter. If you worry about being known for HDR then why do it so much? I really enjoy your images but, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you do seem to fall back on HDR a lot. Even when an image would be great without HDR you sometime apply the technique anyway. Is it because you like the technique or because you know it so well you find it “safe” to do?

  5. Pete says on 9 Apr 09

    Just a quick reply for now.

    @Norbert – Out of the 67 photos I’ve posted this year on my photoblog only 14 are HDR. Only 61 during 2008. 26 b&w shots this year. HDR processing is only a small part of what I do. I do more b&w shots than HDR. I am a very strong believer in only using it when it adds to the image. Use it when its needed. I don’t feel its safe to do so. I’m not even sure whats safe about it.

    My worry isn’t that I’m known for HDR. My worry is that I’m not known for the subjects in my photography. I’m more known for my processing style, which seems like a bad thing.

  6. P3dro says on 9 Apr 09

    “I asked Twitter what am I known for. The response was something I expected. I really appreciated peoples replies but they confirmed a worry.”

    Actually, Pete, that’s not quite right.

    The question you asked on Twitter was: “Question time. Regarding my photography, what would you say I’m most known for?”

    I’m not being picky or pedantic. Had you asked the question in a different way, you would have had very different answers. If you’d simply asked: “What am I?” (as per the title of this blog post) then I’ll wager there would have been a slew of people going “WTF – you’re a photographer, aren’t you?”

    By asking the question you did, you almost funnelled the answers into “HDR” and “Liverpool”. And that’s hardly surprising. You ARE known for HDR. There’s a guide on Vanilla Days about HDR – it ranks super high on google in a search on the term “HDR”. You put yourself up there as an HDR exponent. You did that. No-one else. And that’s not criticism; that’s praise.

    The same goes for the Liverpool bit too in some ways. You can’t help that – you photograph Liverpool. I’ve read enough of your posts elsewhere to know why you do it (as opposed to, say North Wales or Birkenhead).

    Please, please be grateful for the responses you had. They confirm what you have set out to do and what you have achieved.

    I also know you have your highs and lows – again, you make no secret of it. As I was thinking about the response to your post I couldn’t get rid of the scary parallels between some of the things you say and the thoughts of out of my head.

    Introspection is a dangerous thing, my friend. Be careful how you deal with it.

    Oh, and the answer to the question is: I’m a photographer.

  7. P3dro says on 9 Apr 09

    Bugger – link to Tony Hancock not quite work right – but I hope you get the point

  8. Andy says on 10 Apr 09

    It’s good you’re asking yourself this question IMO.

    When I saw your question posted on Twitter I instantly thought ‘HDR’. As you’ve pointed out, a large percentage of your shots aren’t HDR at all but each is heavily post-processed IMO. As a result, I think you’re correct – people know you for your PP style rather than the genre of photography you shoot.

    I guess the question you’re presenting boils down to who is going to employ you for what job? For those prospective clients you’ve never had contact with previously, what will lead them to pick up the phone to you rather than the other hundreds of photographers who are all vying for business?

    That’s a difficult one. I’ve been following the excellent video posts on http://www.zarias.com/ (I can’t remember which episode it was when he addressed this question, but I think it was: http://www.zarias.com/?p=330 ), I think it’d be very worthwhile you checking out a few of his videos.

    If photojournalism is your chosen genre maybe it’s time to really get out of your comfort zone? Is there any project *away from Liverpool* which you’d really like to document?

    Where Nachtwey is known for his war photography (and is now documenting the fight against AIDS & TB), and Burtynsky is known for documenting the affect of mans industry on the landscape, what is your passion?

    http://www.zoriah.net/blog/2009/04/photojournalism-technique—robert-capa-if-your-pictures-arent-good-enough-youre-not-close-enough-1.html

  9. Steve Forfar says on 10 Apr 09

    Your niche is ok pete. Even Edward Chambre Hardman’s passion was Landscape Photography. He did portraits for his bread & butter.And obviously he captured Liverpool in his own time.Some people probably thought then that some of his photos were not exciting, but they capture a moment that’s history for the future to remember.I enjoy looking at your photographs, but as a photographer who looks at many other peoples works. Don’t become a wedding photographer, because that is for someone elses memory,not yours nor your audience, just photograph anything and everthing where you see a picture and some pictures will come easier than others. I’ve seen a lot of your work and it is truely varied and different which is what it should be. Some people don’t like HDR, but equally some don’t like colour, or b&W, but it is an art form that is subjective and only those who don’t understand the visual arts and critise are those who make it objective, and then we all look at the same picture, how boring can that be? We must diversify from the old masters to the impressionists to Picaso to Tracy Emins bed to Damiem Hirsts sculptures, otherwise we would not see anything different

  10. Anthony says on 10 Apr 09

    At the end of the day Pete you are a photographer, and you are in a position where you can be all of these ‘people’ whenever you want, or need, to be – and get the bills paid :)

    HDR is a technique, but it is a young technique – especially in photography terms. You are known as one best exponents of it around. Is that a bad thing? OK there are nay sayers who don’t think that it is ‘real’ photography – the same type of people who said digital was never going to be good enough… or that colour film was untrue to the form… etc etc.

    You are known for taking photos of Liverpool because that is what you shoot most of – and do so well.

    I think people had it right a few years ago. Shoot what you love and be happy doing it – it will only reflect well in your work.

  11. Photonutter says on 11 Apr 09

    Just a couple of thoughts spring to mind here.
    Great string of names to align yourself with, just wonder what turns a great photographer into a legendry one?
    As for HDR, I think this is down to misconception of your work on the whole, yes to me seem heavily processed, but mosty not HDR.
    Oh, one last thing, do you think Ansel Adams never shot colour, or only pointed his camera at mountain scenes?

  12. Norbert Avaya says on 13 Apr 09

    I now see your issue. You say that you “My worry is that I’m not known for the subjects in my photography. I’m more known for my processing style, which seems like a bad thing.” Correct me if I am wrong – but I have read posts by you that say things like “I spent a whole day processing this image until I got it right” St George’s spring to mind. I can’t recall seeing a post saying “I spent all day waiting to take this image and here it is straight out of the camera”. It isn’t a criticism just an observation, but you seem to spend a lot more time processing an image than taking it. I’d like to see a week of Pete Carr unplugged – images with bare minimum processing.

  13. Pete says on 13 Apr 09

    @kitten – Thanks :) I am really proud of the work I’ve done so far in Liverpool. The city gave me a subject to photograph when I was starting out with digital. Its given me focus and something I can go back to day after day and still find something new to photograph. I love it. I guess its hard to know if I’m on the right track when there’s no actual destination. Clearly things worked out ok for Chambre-Hardman.

    @Brian – I’ve just checked mine. Over the past 2 years I’ve got about 1/4 of the visitors from Liverpool as I did London. Its a bit odd that a photoblog about Liverpool gets more traffic from London than here. Manchester isn’t far behind Liverpool. I would agree with Matt that its better to get a portfolio first and then make a living from it. Job security etc.

    @P3dro – I see your point there. In some respects I may have asked the wrong question. As you say, on the flip side it confirms that things I’ve aimed for I’ve achieved. I did set out to do great HDR work and I’m known for it. I did set out to document Liverpool and I’m known for it. So I’ve succeeded there and I should be happy with that. I guess my worry is whether I should be more focused on one key area and things.

    @Andy – Exactly. Thats my worry. Now its hard to escape the HDR “issue”. My guide is no.1 on google and on the first page for HDR. Oh and I sorta wrote a book on it :D Ansel Adams is known for brilliant b&w’s of Yellewstone and the zone system he made. Actually, now I write that its not that different to me. He focused on a place he loved, Yellowstone just as I focus on Liverpool. There is that question regarding clients. What do they know me for? Quick answer is commercial work. My love is people n places. My site clearly shows that. Maybe I’m just being impatient. I’ve built it and they do come, so I should be happy with that and keep at it.

    @Steve – Theres no danger of me being a wedding photographer. It really not what I could do on a weekly basis. A couple of times a year is fine, but I prefer to do my friends weddings as its more fun.

    @Anthony – Noted :) I guess what I do works so I should be happy and keep on it.

    @Photonutter – Yer I know Adams did other things but thats what he’s known for. In a way thats who he is, or at least thats who we see him as. What am I? A HDR photographer of Liverpool, to put it simply.

    @Norbert – Thing is, I wouldn’t spend all day waiting to take a photo. For one the light would move and what was good in the morning would be very different later. I’d know better than to sit there all day and I would go out when the light is right. When you’re standing there in the moment it is just one moment where everything works and you take the shot. When you’re sitting at home processing you can take your time and find what works and doesn’t. It frees you up to play with that moment. I do spend more time processing than taking and thats simply because I have the freedom to. I don’t believe a week of bare minimum photos would really do anything other than point out that I rely on processing. My camera simply isn’t up to the job of capturing what I see. I really do believe that processing should take 2nd place to the content, which is why its a worry that people see my processing as a bigger deal than my content.

  14. Pete says on 13 Apr 09

    Seems this theme doesn’t like long replies, well paragraphs.

  15. Glyn Davies says on 22 Jun 09

    Hi Pete

    It doesn’t matter what you photograph or what genre you get involved with as long as you remain true to the reasons for getting involved in the first place. However, I can see why you are labelled as an HDR photographer regardless of the proportion you say are actually HDR. Almost every image of yours looks over processed, as is so much of the HDR stuff around these days. For many amateurs it has become a crutch for piss poor photography and bad exposures. Even forgetting HDR / pre HDR people were pratting around with saturation sliders in PS in the belief that the more overkill the colours the better the image is.

    Now I have said before that your photojournalism images are ACE, (it’s the only reason I still subscribe to your blog), in composition AND content (really ALL that matters in PJ)however they STILL look over processed. Even if they are not HDR they ‘look’ HDR with shadows to highlights all screaming for attention. Now in some, like the picture of the girls in bikinis on a wet Liverpool day, I loved the green reflections in the shadows on the street but in others the images look garish (maybe that’s what you intend, but it’s what I felt).

    I feel that your ‘style’ or technique often overpowers the very subjects themselves and that is not good IMO. If style overpowers content and message then something is wrong in my opinion.

    If you want to break away from the HDR label then you may need to re-evaluate the techniques you employ (or moderate them or whatever).

    Wouldn’t it be better to be known as the chronicler of everything Liverpudlian than the guy who makes most things look unreal? It’s why your B&W versions ALWAYS become more arresting IMO because I see the subject within amazing compositions, not an overworked style.

    These are just my thoughts following your questions on the blog. Hope the thoughts may be of some use.

    Best wishes
    Glyn

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