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John Brooks, Photographer, Bristol, United Kingdom

EWW: If you do believe that photography can be fine art, then are there certain elements that need to be in a photograph to be considered fine art?

John: I would say that in addition to the foregoing response that such a photograph might also be a large print so that the attention to detail may be fully appreciated and seen by the viewer. Also the image should preferably not be a “snapshot” but a crafted piece of work that is available to be purchased by the public.

EWW:  Considering your body of work as a whole, do you see any particular consistent themes, besides structure, such as movement, color pallet, subject matter, etc.?

John: I guess much of my work tends to be fairly graphic in style, which stems from my formal studies in graphic art. Originally I wanted to be a graphic artist as I had an uncle in Vancouver who was an artist and he wanted me to train under him. As for colors I am not particularly aware of any preferences although blue is my favorite color. Subject matter varies considerably and depends on what project(s) I have at the time. Recently I have been involved in a project titled the River Story, which dictated the subject. Often I will work to the theme of a forthcoming exhibition or competition, which may cover several varieties of subject matter. Another interest is that of texture and contrasts of texture, which I have combined in some abstract pieces of rock and straw.

EWW:  Who or what has been the biggest influence on you as a photographer in recent years?

John: A large influence has been the work of Harry Callaghan and Fred Herzog, both of whom share a vision that differs but I can appreciate greatly. Also Joel Meyerowitz creates images to which I would like to aspire but in my own way. It is very difficult to be original as influences are usually at work in a subliminal way. Locally I very much admire the work of Barry Cawston.

EWW: Do you have any formal training in photography?

John: Yes I had some at college and at work a long time ago but the most important training in my mind was that of art. At college I did well at painting, collage and graphics. I also developed all my own films and printed all my positives for several years before I moved over to mainly color.

It is the ability to SEE that creates a good image, not the technical aspects of f-stops and shutter speeds and depth of field. These are very important to achieve a quality image and the end result that you want but these are merely techniques that most people can learn in time. The really important part is the vision and ability to compose.

EWW: Do you have a preference in terms of film or digital or do you use both?  If you have a preference, why?

John: I do use both and both have their uses and good and bad points. Digital enables you to judge a result instantly and is generally highly portable. Analog usually entails carrying around more equipment, which is heavy and bulky and more visible to the public who often approach me to look at it and to question me about it. It is also a slower process, which is an advantage quite often as it makes you think more about what you are doing and why you are doing it. The most attractive aspect about film is that I find it has much greater depth tonally and renders colors more sympathetically. I sometimes use a Polaroid on my 5 x 4 cameras to judge the result before committing to a sheet negative. It is costly and laborious to have to re-take shots and sometimes almost impossible to recreate the scene due to changing weather conditions etc.

EWW: Now, for the technical side of your photography.  In general terms, what types of equipment do you use?  Are there any “must have” pieces of equipment, for one to be successful in this medium of expression?

John: I use a number of cameras ranging from 5 x 4  format studio cameras, a twin lens reflex Rollieflex 6 x 6cm which I bought second-hand 45 years ago, a Zenza Bronica 6 x 4.5 rollfilm camera, a Canon 35mm film SLR and a Panasonic Lumix digital camera. They all have their particular uses in my work so I have the ability to select the right camera for a particular project knowing in advance what the parameters I need from the equipment. I mainly like a wide-angle lens for most subjects. Also having a rising tilting front and back is great for architectural shots to compensate for parallax.

EWW: What advice would you give to someone that is just beginning to use photography as a means of creative expression?

John: Don’t get too hung up on the array of gadgets and equipment available. Even to consider using a Holga camera, which will make the user think carefully about the subject and how to handle it.  Above all think outside the box and be persistent. A young person who I know recently acquired a Kodak folding camera, which uses 120 film and she is at the beginnings of her photographic development. She already produced very good images with a digital and I am delighted that she has taken this step.

EWW:  John, what advice would you give to a photographer just beginning their professional career?

John: Map out their preferred direction, do the market research, where is their target market and ask themselves if they expect to make money out of it now, later or when? Be realistic because the competition is fierce. You will probably need more than one job to survive for a few years.

EWW: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about you and your work?

John: I consider myself as an artist working with photography and have had a number of works exhibited alongside paintings, prints and sculptures. I was awarded “Artist of Distinction” recently for some judged work, which was extremely exciting. I also work on my own books, usually one each year, which I find very useful as it focuses the mind and provides a goal to achieve apart from getting exhibited more!

Website: www.johnbrooksphotography.co.uk

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