I need people in photographs

Children play football with an improvised ball in the Copperbelt of Zambia. ©Neil Turner/TSL.

Like most members of the photographic profession, the bottom has dropped out of my business and any and all photography bookings between the first week of March and the end of July have been postponed or cancelled. Not my fault, not my client’s faults either so I’m being pretty calm about it and getting used to being in lockdown. Lots of my news photographer friends are out there day after day coming up with fabulous picture to illustrate the only story that anyone is interested in – the Coronavirus Pandemic – and I applaud them warmly. That applause goes for the health workers, retailers who are at work, the emergency services, delivery drivers, refuse workers and every other key worker who is there doing their jobs to keep society ticking over and, more importantly, safe.

Again, like most members of the photographic profession, I am looking back through old images of mine to remind myself what it is about the job and making the pictures that I love so much. I’ve also been looking through some of the hundreds of photographic books that line the shelves in my home and it has taken almost no time at all to re-affirm what I already knew:

I need people in pictures to make them interesting to me 95% of the time. Another 3% features human activities with no people apparent, 1% is about animals and the final 1% is made up of the rest.

That doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me but, try as I might, I cannot get excited about straight landscapes and buildings don’t work for me either. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the skills involved in a great photograph of places and inanimate objects but it is incredibly rarely that they make my heart sing in the way that even quite average people photographs can. So as I sit here with a catalogue of my own work in front of me I can see why I have enjoyed my career so far so much – it has mostly been about people and about human interaction. It has been about the good, bad and downright ugly things we have done to the world and its population and I cannot wait to get my cameras back out (other than to give them a thorough clean which I’ve already done) and get back out there. I will be interested to see whether social distancing and the lockdown that are becoming second nature change the way that I shoot. Actually, it’s not just that I’ll be interested – the wait is going to be necessary but painful.

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