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Discovering the Art of Photography

What does creativity in photography involve? How do you progress as a photographer? What sets you apart as a photographer? These are questions that all creatives face, not just people in the field of photography. In this episode we discuss discovering what kind of photographer you are, what it means to be a photographer and discuss photography as an art form.

 

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at Discovering the Art of Photography.

Muaz

On this episode of Blazon, I’m talking to Darren Black, who is a fashion and portrait photographer based in London. An early adopter of trends and the zeitgeist, his approach is that of an artist rather than a fashion photographer. A lecturer at London College of Fashion and Instituto Marangoni. Darren teaches as a practitioner and has nurtured some great new creatives in the fashion industry. 

Darren

My name is Darren Black. I am a London-based Fashion and Portrait Photographer. I’m also an educator. I teach at two different academies at a university level. And my work I suppose, is a mix of portraiture fashion and the intersectionality of the genders.

Muaz

So, how did you get started pursuing this particular path? So did you start as a photographer? 

Darren

No, I didn’t. This was an accidental career. I studied fashion in the early nineties and then as part of my year in industry, I moved to New York and I became a club kid. And I was, you know, as far as I was concerned, I was going to work in fashion and I was going to be in production.

Darren Black Portrait

So the job that I had when I was in New York was about taking spec drawings. I mean, we’re going back in the days before computers did what they do now. So we used to fax everything out. Um, so I would take spec drawings and get them turned into, you know, a hundred thousand t-shirts for JC Penney or 200,000 t-shirts for the GAP.

So it wasn’t really the high fashion career that I thought I was going to have, I didn’t move to Paris and work at an atelier, but it was good. It was a good start in the industry. And then I moved back to the UK and realized that I wasn’t really in love with the industry the way it was in the mid nineties.

I didn’t really, I didn’t really, I wasn’t really encouraged by it. So I kind of dipped out for a while. I always consider that I think editorially. So. When it came to, you know, I was, I’ve always collected magazines. I’ve always collected books. I’ve always seen all the exhibitions for all the artists that I like.

And it occurred to me that in actual fact, none of the things that I was collecting belong to the fashion community, they belong to the art world. So there was art books that I was looking at, art magazines and kind of architecture and all the other stuff that surrounds fashion, that fashion is influenced by, but it wasn’t actually fashion.

And at that point, I was kind of like a party designer and a floral artist. So I would take like big flower displays and kind of put them into big spaces. And I was working quite internationally at the time and I was quite well-renowned for it. And I was written about in newspapers and bits and bobs like that, but it never really occurred to me that that was my career, even though it was by this point, I was in my mid approaching, my mid thirties and I had this career.

That was great, you know, from the outside. I was making money. I was making a name for myself, but it didn’t really occur to me that I enjoyed it very much. And at one of the parties that I kind of designed, I went as a guest and there was a photographer there who I got talking to at the bar. And he said that he was really unhappy being a party photographer, that he actually wants to be a fashion photographer.

So I was like, Oh my God, well, I studied fashion and I’ve worked in fashion for a few years and I know quite a few people, why don’t I do some creative direction for you? So I started creatively directing his photo shoots, but I didn’t really like the results and what was in my head and what came out of his camera were two different things.

And it hadn’t occurred to me at that point that you can’t kind of take a photograph remotely. You’ve actually got to be the person with the camera. So I bought a camera and I taught myself photography. I went on a little short course. Um, one day a week, learning how to use aperture and all the other bits and bobs that go with making pictures.

And every week the teacher set a homework. So the homework would be, you know, take a long, a long shutter speed photo at nighttime, or take a photograph in the dark, or take a photograph with bright daylight, with a flash on as a fill. And all because I knew models and because I knew makeup artists, all of my photographs were fashion pictures.

And because of all the people that I was looking at at the time about Cecil Beaton and Norman Parkinson and all those kinds of the great. So my photographs over 10 weeks, I kind of basically got myself a portfolio and I went for lunch with one of my friends who was running Harvey Nichols at the time, he was running like the e-commerce section.

And I said to him, this is my portfolio, I’m thinking of doing something different. What do you think? And he’s like, Oh, you’re very editorial. And I said, is there any opportunity of any work? Like, I don’t mind what it is, but I’ll give it a go. And I was about 36 at his point. I’m 48 now I’m 49 this year. And he said, well, you’re in luck. We’ve just kind of got rid of the agency that was taking all of our photos. We need someone for the next campaign. And I was like, brilliant. I can do it. Yeah. And I did. And I shot for them for three years and it was great. So I kind of started the industry at the top. And I was kind of Billy big balls and I was like, yeah, I’m kind of a big fashion photographer now, approaching 40. And I was like, I’m gonna get myself an agent. So I put my own portfolio together of all this kind of work. And I reached out to a few agents and they were all kind of like, yeah, your works great. But we’ve got someone that shoots like you. And this one agent that I reached out to him was like, yeah, come in and meet me. So I was like, brilliant. I’ve got myself a haircut, got myself a new top, walked in thinking I was like, mum, put the champagne on ice. We’re gonna pop it tonight. And, um, and I sat down with my portfolio with her and she was so unimpressed. It was crushing. It was literally flicking through my iPad. She was like your work’s really boring. And I was like, What?, it’s like, she got some one picture at the very end of the book that I put in just as a bit of a punctuation mark at the end.

And she said, well, your work is like a roller coaster. I have no idea who you are and you’re too old. And I was like, Hmm, I’m not. And she said, but I like this picture at the end. So this is the picture, should throw everything else away. I like you. You’ve got good energy. If you did work that looked like this, then you, you can do it.

But if you’ve got to continue doing work that looks like the rest of your book, I’ve got one piece of advice for you. Stop, stop now. Because this is a waste of your time. I was like Okay. So that was a bit of a baptism by fire. So I was like, mum, take the champagne off ice, not got an agent. I went home and it was Easter. And I sulked because I was like, God’s sake. I thought I was going to get an agent. And I thought this was going to be the thing that changed my life. But it was a thing that changed my life. So I did throw away that book. And I did start again because I think it’s very important to take advice from someone.

You know, if it’s not the best advice that then you’ll figure that out very quickly. But if someone says to you, I do this for a living, my opinion is this, take this advice. I think it’s important to listen to that. Listening to yourself at the same time, obviously. And so it did, I threw that book away and I did a series called the Glorious Bastards.

It’s where I photographed all these tattooed guys together. And I phoned her back about couple months later. And I said, I took your advice. I’ve got some work I want you to see. So she said you should bring it in. So this time I didn’t take it in on an iPad, I printed it and I printed like A2 so it was quite big.

And I took them into her still, literally warm up the press. They were warm as I gave her them. And we went into her conference room and she laid them all out on the table. And she was like, yes, I’m excited. This is what I wanted. This is the photographer that you are. I want to see these in galleries, you could sell these.

And I was like, Oh my God, get that champagne back at ice. We’re going to be doing it. I’m getting an agent. So she said, let me speak to my team. I’m way I’ve not finished this story. It was amazing at the moment. So I, uh, I was, I was on cloud nine. I was like, this is brilliant. I’ve got my, I’m going to bag myself an agent.

So a week later I phoned her up and I said, look, I need those pictures back. What do you think? She was like, yeah, come in and see me. And I was like, Oh, here we go. She’s going to have the pen, she’s going to have the contract ready, I’m signing. And I walked in, she took me to a conference room, she said I was really excited about these pictures, but my team reminded me… That’s I have no clients that want this work. And I was like, what does that mean? She went I can’t take you on. And I was like, okay. Right. And she said, but I want you to understand you’re a really good photographer and this is the work you should be producing. And I was like, Okay, thank you. Great I think. As I walked out I was like, what does that even mean?

But what she did do, she sent me on a different path. I was taking, she was right. I was taking fashion photographs. I was taking the photographs that anyone who’s been trained in fashion can do. My photographs didn’t have an opinion. They didn’t move you. They were just glamorous women in nice dresses with nice makeup and handsome men in nice suits, standing near fireplaces and standing near big cars because that’s what I was doing as my job.

But what she made me do, she made me realize that personal work is the actual idea behind the photographer. That personal opinion, what they think is what you see in a photograph. So from that moment forward, yes, I still had Harvey Nicholls as a client at that point, but I was making a body of work that represented me and that then got me into a gallery and it got me to other places.

Muaz

So what was that one image that she really liked? 

Darren

I’ll tell you which one it was. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it. So there was a model at the time who he was really zeitgeist boy at the moment. And he I’d seen him as a polaroid on the desk of his agency. And I’d said to them, I really like this guy.

I’d want, I want to shoot him. And they were like, yeah, that’s fine, you know,  do it. And I basically I stood him  at a urinal in a dirty public toilet. We were very, very quick because it was a real public toilet and he’s got his underwear pulled down. So he shot from behind. So he’s bums to camera and he’s got a gun. I mean, it’s not the kind of work that I actually produced now. But it was the thing that set it with the foundation stone upon which everything else now sits. And he’s basically pointing the gun off camera to someone who’s not stood in the frame. So he’s on his own. It’s a landscape photograph. It looks like a cinema still. Um, and we shot it in like literally. A split second. And then I was like, get your underwear back up. We’ve got to get out. And, and it’s just that picture of him with his bum to camera facing off with a gun. And you don’t know who he’s pointing at. You don’t know anything else about it. It’s slightly allegorical.

And that was the one that she stopped at and she was like, this is the photo. So then I invited him to be one of my tattoos, we he had a lot of tattoos. I invited him to one of my tattooed boys and then from the Glorious Bastards, that’s the true foundation stone upon everything else. Um, and then, you know, then my, the queer gaze that I have, I applied like the gender non binary community to my work.

It applied the gender non-specific ideas of dress codes and all of those other things started to layer and filter into what I do. 

Muaz

Wow. So. So that’s how your style started to, to, to develop from that point onwards. 

Darren

From that point onwards, it was that one picture. And had I been a 20 year old student at university, and she’d said that to me, I would probably have gone on to do like film and everything, all these other things by now, but because I was already, you know, I was almost forty at that point.

I have adult responsibilities, I had bills. So I basically. I kind of almost divided my career into my commercial work, which I didn’t need anyone to see. And then my body of work, which everyone see. So my Instagram is populated really with models, I’ve cast on Instagram, ideas that I’ve had, because I was, you know, I worked as a stylist and I worked at different things.

I’m quite capable of putting in a star together. And the influences that I have, I mean that those styles have a, it’s not like a one note, but they have a note that pins all of them, that kind of, that idea of like sexuality that underpins everything. So a lot of what you see on my Instagram, you see the start by me, whether it’s just me and the model in the studio, and we’re just figuring something out or it’s been styled by a stylist who understands what my kind of oovra is? And I sketch out a lot of my ideas, bit like, um, I suppose a bit like an artist where they’ll do a lot of sketches before they commit paint to canvas. I sketch lots of ideas out by doing tests with models and figuring out the lighting and figuring out poses.

And then they’ll come back to it again, either with the same model, if they want to do it or with someone else. And I’ll, it will become bigger. And that would be the thing that perhaps will go into my portfolio. So I’ve got quite a lot of sketches. I’ve probably shot. I don’t know, like thousands of models, thousands of which only a few then distilled down into the point of view that I have.

But I always say if a model spends that time with me, I always make sure that they get the photos for them as well. So if they are an actor, if they need, if they need to have headshots, we always get that first because it’s always good to give my time. If someone’s going to give that time to me, the least I can do is give them my skill and they can actually make something from that.

Muaz

Absolutely. So your process, when it comes to your personal work, what is the thought process that goes from envisioning what you want to get? You know, the actual photo. So is that structured or unstructured? What is the process that guides you?

Darren

Really unstructured. Yeah. There, there is no structure. I don’t really make mood boards for anything because the way I see it is if I was a singer. I wouldn’t sing a load of other someone else’s songs. I wouldn’t, if I was a singer, I wouldn’t say a load of Adele songs to show someone how I can sing. I’d sing a load of my own and show that as a tape. Right. Right. So I don’t make mood boards for things, unless the mood board is about my own work. Um, and I don’t really idealize what I’m going to do.

I might watch a film and there’ll be something that happens in the film. I look at it and go, that’s really amazing. That one thing that happened for that split second was amazing. And I’ll pause it and I’ll be like, Yeah, that’s the thing that’s underpinning this idea that I’ve got bubbling, I’ll invite someone to the studio and we will figure things out.

And if we don’t figure it out, we just have a nice time taking pictures. And if we do figure it out, then that’s great. So a lot of people, when it comes to me, they say, what do you want me to bring? And I’d be like, bring anything. I don’t mind because I’ve got some bits here, but I’ve chosen you I’ve, I’ve reached out to you on Instagram because I feel like you are the thing that I feel like our next idea could be.

And I, I like working a lot with dancers because dancers are very fluid with their bodies and they use that body as a tool. And it’s a consequence of using their bodies as a tool. They don’t mind not looking beautiful because to me, so if someone says to me, you go pictures of beautiful. That’s great. That photo is beautiful. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the model inside the photograph has to have, you know, those kind of general codes of what we see beauty as right now. Yeah. So I don’t mind when a model comes in or dancer perhaps, and they bend themselves into like a strange position because I go, that’s an amazing picture.

The whole thing about that’s amazing. I don’t care that the face looks squashed or don’t care that there’s a googly eye or something like that because in actual fact, those are the things that make it beautiful to me. 

Muaz

Right. So I guess that was almost a leading question because as I was mentioning before we started recording, one of the things that I found really interesting about how you photograph and how you capture these images, is it almost makes you think, or it makes the viewer off your work think about how an individual should be photographed or how an individual, what an individual shouldn’t be wearing, what an individual, which should be wearing when they’re being photographed. Because for a number of the designers that we work with and a number of the people that listen to this podcast, because they’re relatively early in their journey, they’ve got preconceived notions with almost what they can do or what they should do. So that’s why I found it quite interesting to almost be challenged by what a person is doing, or the kind of images that a person is putting out there because not only does it challenge you and make you think about what you can do, that you can pretty much do whatever you like because that in its nature is the individuality of creativity. And it’s about just taking in what you’re really passionate about and really putting it out there. And for a designer, that is really important, for a person really early in their journey, that is really important because that will help them later on. So it would be interesting to understand your particular process behind that.

Darren

I think how can I put this? I think what happens with people when they’re entering the arts is they believe that. The thing that they’re going to do is going to be the thing that they’ve got to do forever. And I I’m a firm believer in people are allowed to change their mind. You know, if you decide one thing on a Tuesday and by Thursday, if you rethought it, you can change your mind.

And also we’re allowed to contradict ourselves. We’re allowed to say one thing one minute as an artist, and then be like, well, now, I mean, this, I think as long as your idea is underpinned by cultural zeitgeist and, the I, you know, for me, the idea that my models have autonomy, I think is very important. So when you know, models come to me and they say, Oh, I don’t know what I’m doing, or tell me what to do.

I always say to them, don’t do anything at all. Just don’t do anything. We’ll figure it out because that way they’ve got autonomy. I don’t like the idea that someone feels pressured to be something. And then they don’t have permission to be anything else. We all have duality. We are all a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We are the sum of our parts, of our history of everything that’s ever happened to us. So when we tell our stories, one day we might feel a certain way because something is in the air, that’s affected us. That’s reminded us of something that happened to us 10 years ago. And then a few days later we’re thinking something else because there’s another thing that’s in the air, in the atmosphere that’s reminded us of, of something that happened to us yesterday. 

And we’re constantly on a journey in our lives of evolution. Of, you know, evolving, we’re constantly evolving. We think differently from, you know, day to day, we look differently from year to year.

We behave differently as we get older and in our lives. So I think when someone’s young in their career, the best thing they could ever do is be really honest. And just honestly tell a story, even if. Even if they don’t think that anyone is out there to hear it, it’s still an honest story if it’s come from within. I think there’s a danger that people feel they have to do something for an audience.

So I learned that the hard way, my audience was my clients. And I thought that that’s what I was doing. So my baptism by fire was someone telling me my work was really boring because in actual fact it was, it was just fashion photography. And if she had, if she had said to me, I’m really excited by your work, I would still be that photographer now. I wouldn’t have evolved, but she didn’t. She said my work was boring and that this one picture was exciting. And then I jumped off that. And then I was in a world where my male models were tattoos and they were butch. And then I evolved that a bit more. And I started adding more of a queer gaze because I have a queer gaze when it comes to looking at people and that’s got a lot to do with my childhood.

And it’s got a lot to do with, you know, the things that happened to me and my life experiences and someone else is like, experiences are what makes photographs different. I was working with an assistance assistant on one occasion, several occasions, but on this one occasion and I I’ve always been very encouraging of anyone who assists me, because I think if you’re going to give your time to me to assist, I’m going to give time back to you.

And so that time could either be me looking through your portfolio and helping you and guiding you down a road if I can see something. Or letting you play in my studio with a model and figuring out lighting. And on this one occasion, I was shooting just something for myself. And I said to the model, would you mind if my assistant took a few photos?

And she was like, not at all. So she was posing, posing, posing for this assistant. And then she left and then afterwards the assistant came to me with her camera. And she said, my pictures look completely different to yours. I was like, well, they should, it should… But I don’t understand. And I said, what, what what’s confusing about that?

And she said, we have the same model. We had the same lighting. She was dressed the same. And I said, right. But your photos of her sexy, my photos of her sad. And I said that’s because I was directing her. I was guiding her down a road that she willingly walked and she gave me a bit of vavavoom. You didn’t and she naturally went into herself and perhaps what she was feeling at that moment was either hunger or she was tired, or she was thinking about an argument she had with her boyfriend and whatever it was. And you didn’t, you pulled her through those feelings. So our pictures are different because you didn’t put yourself in the photo.

A good photograph is the opportunity of a photograph maker and a subject meeting somewhere in the middle and creating an outcome where it’s a bit of a picture of both of you really, and Anna, at this point, hadn’t put herself in the photo and I think that’s what had happened. So I would always say to anyone who is early on in their career, put yourself in the photo, either physically or metaphorically or mentally put yourself in the frame and see what happens.

Muaz

That is such an important point. And you know, it goes so far beyond photography. It’s any creative art, and it’s really weird that you need to say that you need to participate in your creative endeavor, but sometimes you get passively pushed along the line without even realizing that, you know, you’re just going through the motions without even realizing that you’re going through the motions. So that is a really important point. 

Darren

Those motions are really exciting if you’re creating fashion photography for a big brand, and they’re paying you lots of money, you’ve kind of won. You’ve won the lottery already. You’ve got the career that you wanted. But in actual fact, when you look back at that work, you go it doesn’t move me at all. Actually that one picture I took on my phone of that puddle with a reflection of a building in it speaks more about my work than a hundred hours on set with models in towering shoes, you know? 

Muaz

Absolutely. And that is also really important. It’s about like what, what speaks to you because if that aspect of fashion photography speaks to you, then that is what you should be doing, because you’re going to be doing it with your soul. But if the puddle speaks to you, then, you know, if that kind of photography speaks to you, then that’s also something that you need the levers that enable your creativity, because that doesn’t mean that you’re just taking photos of puddles. That’s kind of how you can envisage how your shoots need to take place. How your you know, how the clothes you’re putting together need to take place. It’s about building that mindset on how to enable your creativity in a way that one well pays the bills, but also enables you to do it in a way that’s satisfying for you because sometimes people do veer a bit too much in the other direction as well. But it’s almost like there is this balancing act, because if you’re not true to yourself, you will burn out super, super quick. But at the same time, you do also want to do something that inevitably you’ll do something that is commercial. The word itself in a commercial means you are going to be getting paid for it. So it’s finding that balance of doing something for the soul and doing something for the wallet, I guess. 

Darren

Hey, I mean, there’s always, what did I say? I said to my students, I’m like, I there’s like three things that I’ll take a picture for. I mean, they’re going to take a picture for the bank, or I want to take a picture for my portfolio or I’m going to take a picture as a favor and that’s it. And if the one that says a favor, it doesn’t hit the bank called the portfolio, but that’s fine. I did that as a favor to someone. If the one that hits the bank doesn’t match the portfolio. I don’t care. I got paid. It’s fine. And if the one that hits the portfolio hits the bank as well, because I then sell it later on. Brilliant. I’ve hit the jackpot. If that happens to be one that I was doing as a favor, I won the lottery. But if, if, if it’s not something that I’m doing for someone else, because I like them and they need my help, or if it’s not something that’s going to benefit me financially or benefit my soul spiritually, there’s no point me doing it because I’m not going to put my heart into it.

And if you don’t put your heart into your photography, you don’t really create anything that other people respond to. Your work has to, and I’m not saying you can hit the bull’s eye with every dart, but your work has to speak to the audience. And the only way I can speak to the audience really in that very romantic way is if you put your heart into it, because then people will receive it that way you can’t stand next to a photograph and be like, Oh, I meant to do this, this, this means this people will take from it, whatever they want, but they can only take something from it. If you put yourself in. 

Muaz

Absolutely. And it’s really interesting when you think about it, both from a photography point of view, or even if you’re a model, because you were saying that how a model reacts with a photographer or when wearing a particular designer. So in each of these, what you’re doing needs to somehow speak to your soul because it comes across that what you’re seeing is not really. It’s artificial. It doesn’t feel real. 

Darren

It is artificial. A photograph is a construct. It’s constructed reality. It’s, you know, when you think of a photograph, it has corners. And we decided as photographers what the corner is going to be outside of those corners, that could be all sorts happening and it’s abstracted, you know, so. When people, when people talk about capturing reality and all those things, it’s only the reality of that person, because the construct means that the constraints that the person with the cameras puts on that photograph to begin with are the thing that they want you to see. The thing that they’re reacting to. When you look at the way Mary Ellen Mark, or Vivian Maier, or, um, Diane Arbus, it’s still constructed. They might’ve been walking around the streets looking for things, but they were looking for certain things. And they were constructing boxes around those things to bring our attention to them.

And that’s what good photography is. It’s kind of the construct that brings our attention to something. So my work I’m bringing attention to the idea of, you know, the various gender expressions that we now talk about because I pose male models in a way that could be seen as quite feminine, because we are all made up of bits of masculine and feminine.

On a day-to-day basis, we could feel masculine on one day and slightly feminine the next and you know, slightly masculine again the day after. So as long as at the time that the photo is being taken, there’s a truth. The reader can see in it, what they want, because I’ve constructed something around someone, you know, I don’t like to do heavy retouches on my models.

If they’ve got a spot that they don’t like, I’ll take it off for them. But if they’ve got scars or tattoos or. You know, if they’re wearing a cast because they’ve broken their arm well, on this day, at this time, that’s what you look like to me. So I’m going to construct you. I want to put you on gray paper and I might put you in something that you might not normally wear out on the street, but we’ll see how that all works together. Those ingredients. 

Muaz

Perfect. So what advice would you give to someone if they’re starting their journey? Let’s say specifically a person who wants to enter fashion photography or is just starting out as a fashion photographer. What do you think are like key things that they need to think about or?

Darren

yeah, so I would say don’t take fashion photographs. Don’t take photos where you’ve got a model from an agency and a makeup artist and a hairdresser, and you’ve done a load of styling. So don’t take those photographs for your portfolios. Take those and obviously put them on Instagram, take those because you might be doing something at university, or you might just left university and you need to build what looks like a fashion portfolio, but in actual fact, I would say, take photographs of things that move you.

And if that happens to be your boyfriend or girlfriend or your best friend in their bedroom, take those pictures, show us internally what you’re thinking and fashion will find something in that that feels relevant. If it’s got the zeitgeists, if it’s got the kind of cultural feeling that we’re all looking at right now.

So we are living in a, in a postmodern world where gender expression is infinite. And you know, if you’ve got a best friend that looks beautiful in a nightgown, but it happens to be your best friend is male. And you said, you know, you take really lovely pictures just with window light coming in, that speaks more about your opinion on what fashion and culture looks like to you than taking a model from an agency into a studio and spending all that money producing and then retouching a photograph that looks commercial in many ways. 

And that’s not to say that commercial is bad, commercial isn’t bad, but when you’re at the beginning of your journey, you want people to know what your opinion is right now.

And the work of someone like David Armstrong, he died a few years ago, but his work still resonates now. Because all he did was take pictures, really of boys in his apartment too, by the window. And they’re beautiful pictures, um, because he adored his models. I think it’s very important to adore your models.

Even if that model is a dog, even if that model is a child, even if that model is a building, you should be looking at those things with love in your eyes, because then people will love them too. And that’s not to say that there’s anything else underneath, you know, underpinning that it’s just like, wow, you’re amazing. You should be amazed by the things that you’re taking pictures of. Um, and find beauty in those things, find the beauty and we, as an audience will also see that beauty. That’s what I would say. 

Muaz

And I think it’s also important. That process will also help you find your eye, you know, like you need to find what looks, you know, how things look and you need to experiment with like so many different ways. Um, cause like I find that in all other parts of fashion as well, you know, you don’t know how your eye sees things, as bizarre as that sounds. 

Darren

No. Exactly. And as photographers, the only thing we have that’s unique to each other is our eye. Because the equipment’s the same, the clothes every season are going through the same as everyone, you know, we’re all shooting the same clothes. The models that are in fashion at the time are all going to be shot by us, the makeup artist, or perhaps the makeup style that feels cool. And the hair styles, they’re all the same thing. And the only thing that makes them separate is the uniqueness of the eye of the person capturing that moment.

Even if the whole moment is constructed by a creative director. And it’s shot tethered to a computer and all those other things that happen in fashion. It’s the eye of the photographer. That is the only unique piece of that jigsaw puzzle. 

Muaz

I think a lot of people listening to this would find a lot of value with a lot of the things that you said. It’s one of those things that, you know, without experimentation, everything would just be boring, you know, and self-expression 

Darren

Absolutely experimentation and celebration. Yeah. 

Muaz

And if you’re not expressing yourself, if self-expression, isn’t part of your creative output, you know, to a certain extent. Yeah. There would be challenges in a creative industry if your creative output isn’t coming from deep within you. I mean, as you said, you know, there could be a commercial aspect, but on the flip side, even if that’s for personal purposes, you do need to challenge that part of yourself as well, to just to make sure that you’re, that you continually filling that Well, you know, just to make sure you don’t burn out.

Darren

No, absolutely. And also asking yourself why, you know, why do I want to take this photograph? Why do I, why do I like this? It’s very important. Knowing your own tastes, I think is important. Why, why am I doing this? Why am I seeing this? Why would I want this model to do this? There’s many photographs that I’ve seen. And I look at them and I just think, Oh my God, why, why did they take that picture? Why is that model so compromised in that photo? Right? Then, you know, They’d taken all agency away from that model. Why did they do that? What was going through their brain? And when I see that, I just, it makes me question, what was the photographer thinking?

And you know, that’s not to say that people don’t look at my work and think now of course, all of our work is subject to how someone feels when they see it, because it’s not just the fact that we are the sum of our parts and our history that went behind us. The viewer is also that. And they’re going to bring to the table, something that affects them.

And I think you can’t ever manage that, once you put a photograph out into the world, you can’t manage how it’s received. All you can do is manage how it was made. So I always think to myself, why, why would I want this? Why do I do this? Why am I thinking that? And perhaps I over analyze certain things and then you stop yourself from doing something and you don’t explore it. But I do think that, you know, I think not a lot enough, not enough people ask themselves, why, why do I want that model to do that? Make sure that everyone in your, on your team has agency, you know, and is valued. And those things.

You can find Darren online at:

  • Website: www.darrenblackphotography.com
  • Instagram: @darren_black

You can listen to the whole interview podcast over on our podcast page or by clicking here at Discovering the Art of Photography.

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