Evolve or die / by Mike Stacey

The things I pointed my camera at changed quite dramatically a while back. From empty expanses of central Australian desert, remote windswept beaches and concrete industrial brutalist architecture to human beings. The switch itself happened easily and I've never looked back.

I had built quite a following in landscape and contemporary photography circles, all the usual stuff like lots of followers on social media but also some gallery representation and many real human contacts with faces and voices. When I made the switch to pointing my camera at people I lost probably more than 99% of those people. I even lost communication with people who called themselves artists. I still don't understand why.

I know my own work and I know what internal mechanisms drive me to produce a picture. That internal focus is still exactly the same as it was when I pointed my camera at vast empty oceans and post modern architecture. I guess 'they' don't know what that internal drive is, and can't see the connection between past and present, can't see the thread, the continuum, the fabric that links the pictures I see in my head. That's another article I guess but its debatable whether that should need to be written. It's a pity about all those followers, but it's ok.

From the "Pretty Vacant" series.

It's easy to become trapped by your art and it can be hard to know where and when to draw the line, when to just say "fuck it" and jump out the door. Sounds pretty dramatic doesn't it? In my case it was. The leap involved leaving a 14 year relationship and the house I loved and had invested so much time into. Oh, and my cat, she stayed behind too. 

Sometimes there are leads that present themselves and you have to go with them to see where they lead. I've always been adventurous, not reckless (not now anyway), more calculated risk taking I guess. When a lead happens to take you some place in your artistic life, it cannot be ignored. It should not be ignored. If this is what drives you, what makes you whole, what makes you human, what you are passionate about; then there are no compromises.

Peter Shoemark - Sculptor, in his 'studio' - from the Blue Mountains Artist Project 2011 - 2012.

Many photographers are hobbyists and that's cool but my photography has always been about something more, something deeper, something magical - and it makes me tick, it makes me so enthusiastic I can barely contain it. The passion now is not just as strong as it was 35 years ago shooting remote landscapes with my mate Myke, who was also passionate about photography, it is stronger; much stronger. Why? Because I have nurtured this passion and allowed it to grow and it in turn, it has given me back great satisfaction. All of this is nothing new to any artist I'm sure, it's just my rant.

Elena Filippi.

So the recent switch from pointing my cameras at barren wilderness to human beings has been big. It meant the demise of a relationship and a comfy domestic situation. It meant the loss of thousands of faceless followers (probably doesn't mean much but these days it seems to). It meant almost starting again with photography. I knew how to use a camera well, when it was pointed at inanimate objects but... and this is what most landscape photographers do not realise or appreciate - it meant I knew virtually nothing about this new form of photography.

Some people I've spoken too have said things like, "But Mike, you are technically excellent with your camera work, what else is there to learn?" I've heard this a few times over the last few years and I still nearly fall over and shit myself when I hear it. Here's the drum, short and sweet:

Shooting landscapes and architecture demands very little of a photographer, very little.

If you want to challenge yourself as a photographic artist then try shooting human beings. Shoot them outside, inside, in studios with strobes (now there's a year's worth of learning in itself), shoot them nude, shoot them clothed, shoot them happy, sad, shoot them with the shits, interact with these humans as part of how you shoot (because you have to if you want good images). OK now I'm beginning to merely scratch the surface of this. I think it's another article - the next article. Christ, don't get me started after not having written about this for years...