And then you go to the galleries and museums. You look at those fine books on photography and you see what the masters did long before you knew the difference between Tri-X and Ekatachrome. Will you ever shoot a better picture than those Cartier-Bresson street scenes of the 1940s? Will you ever come near the intensity of a Gene Smith reportage? You discover that any imaginable situation has beeen photographed already - the moment of birth and the split second of death, desperation and joy, man on the moon and life in the womb.
Now they are working on computers that will store every photograph that exists in the world. You want a picture of spear-fishing in Surinam? Push the right buttons and you'll see it in milliseconds. The world on magnetic disks wll be right at our fingertips. Why bother to send a photographer all the way to South America? Why bother to go out into the heat and cold of the real world and take even more pictures, adding to the millions that exist already, stored away in the electronic maze? Will photography eventually make itself obsolete through overproduction?
it takes a lot of courage (or arrogance) for any photographer to go out again and again taking even more pictures to add to the ever-growing abundance of photography
Thomas H–pker, written circa 1980
There are a lot of great, famous, universally admired photographers - Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Walker Evans the list goes on. And they're all brilliant in their various ways. But then I suppose everybody who's seriously interested in photography also has their own few special heroes - the ones who when you look at their work, you don't just go oh yeah, that's good, you go Oh my god. That's amazing. How did he/she do that? I'd die happy if I could do something like that just once.
I'm not suggesting anybody should try to learn their own photographic eye and style from copying anybody else. I do think, though, there's something to be learned from seeing who your own personal photographic heroes are. Something in the way they see clearly connects with something in the way you see, otherwise why would their pictures hit you so hard? So then looking at a lot of their work and trying to see how it works (I mean with regard to composition & seeing, not the idiotic, gear-freak, what camera/film did he/she use oh then if I buy a Leica/Hasselblad/huge view camera and shoot Kodachrome/Velvia/Tri-X I'll be able to do it too attitude. Anybody can buy equipment and learn technique, it's irrelevant if you don't see interesting things to point your equipment and technique at, and work out how equipment and technique might relate to what you're actually trying to do with your pictures. Anything you admire in other people is because you're recognising something in yourself, as a friend once said to me.
These, then, are the photographers whose work consistently has that oh my god that's amazing factor for me: