An Open-ended Creative Outlet
Meet David, or as we know him, blipper Hobbs. David is enjoying retirement with his lovely wife of 40 years in a village of artists at the top of Australia’s Blue Mountains where he actively supports his local arts community with theatre design and stage direction. In our blipper profile, David shares a fascinating story from working in education to being a professional graphic designer to owning his own advertising and photography business. Find out how all these things came about, what made him feel a million dollars and, of course, about his love of Blipfoto.
Don’t miss the short video of David’s Top 10 at the end!
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
At teachers college and university during the 1960s, I took units of photography studies including a lot of practical camera and darkroom work. During my first years in the teaching service, I was sent to a posting in the far west of New South Wales. In my spare time, I spent several years documenting life in mid-twentieth century rural Australia – drought riddled landscapes, arid flora and fauna, rodeos, traditional country architecture, sheep mustering, shearing and a host of other things. I’d spend countless hours poring over a multiplicity of contemporary photography journals and magazines, containing articles and images by some of the most legendary image makers of that time. From having been an academic course “filler”, photography grew to become an all-absorbing pastime.
What started you blipping?
For me, day-to-day bill paying photography had been mostly pretty mundane. It had rarely, if ever, been glamorous or especially creative. Most commercial shoots led to acres of uninspired, but functional images with which to illustrate and market products through catalogues or print media display advertising, all the while having to meet ever shorter deadlines and placate ever more stressed clients. By the time my business was winding down to retirement, photography had become a drudgery, which I was all too happy to abandon.
In time however, I re-discovered a desire to see photography as an open-ended creative outlet – something I hadn’t considered since the early years. By then of course, digital methodology held sway, which served to facilitate this. From about 2005, I posted galleries of images to one of the earliest online gallery/daily journal initiatives. In due course however, the site began to show signs of failure, characterised by inconvenient periods of down time. Meanwhile, a friend of mine (blipper trisharooni) had discovered Blipfoto and in 2011, I adopted her suggestion and began posting pictures to THAT site instead. And there it began.
Do you have a photographic style?
Probably not but I sort of wish I did. I believe that constraint leads to creativity and I have tried to identify a photographic philosophy within which I can confine myself.
Out of sheer habit, my work leans toward the documentary or illustrative. Consequently, I see most of my images as what Ansel Adams might once have described as “straight”. I am convinced that if photography is to claim status as an art form of some kind, it must do so in terms of what it naturally IS rather than out of an attempt to mimic some OTHER form such as painting or drawing. I also believe that so called “digital art” such as one might identity in highly processed images might some day rate as an art … but it isn’t really photography.
Photography had most to “say”, in my view, when it was primarily black and white. Today, the medium is dominated by colour which inevitably takes much away from photographic style. In my aspirations, I am (at best) a work in progress.
How important is the journaling side to you?
Text to accompany my daily picture is very important. I have little interest in diarising my days which I worry might bore people. Instead, I try to describe my state of mind as it relates to the posting in question, especially if it has enabled me to learn something new or further develop my skills as a photographer. If the picture/words combination affords me an opportunity to poke a little fun at myself – so much the better!
ON THESE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES
If anything, the Coronavirus lockdown experience has actual been helpful to my photography. Due to restricted travel opportunities, the range of subjects available to me has been drastically reduced of course, but I have had more time to consider and process my pictures and visit other journals. Most notably, the additional constraints upon my hobby have tended to concentrate the mind and enable me to “see” better.
Right now, I feel more motivated than I have for some while. The biggest downer for me has always been lack of time to adequately consider what I am doing or to get ideas. It always takes time for me to mentally focus on anything and so the present situation has led to my being able to apply myself more fully to photography. I have also had the chance to watch photography videos on Youtube and read books and journals on photographic subjects. That sort of thing always gets me in the mood.
ON BEING A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER
Tell us about your favourite piece of camera equipment. How has photography changed for you over the years?
Every camera I have ever owned has contributed something to my development as an image maker. Each has been a favourite at some stage or another and successfully addressed my evolving needs. The camera which started it all was a basic Kodak Instamatic. The first “proper” camera was a wonderful old Minolta Himatic 7s and the camera I did courses using was a Kodak Retinette 1A which lacked a light meter or rangefinder but still had an essential shutter speed dial and aperture ring. You learn an incredible amount when confined to the hard core basics.
My first SLR was a (then) high end Minolta SRT 101 (1968). It was a revelation in so many ways. I felt like a million dollars brandishing it! When professional practicality and rugged endurance came to matter most, the later Nikon F SLRs and Bronica medium format cameras, were eternally serviceable but (for me) always lacked the flair of the old Minolta – wish I still had it.
My first primitive digital camera (from 1995) was the Logitech Fotoman. It was little more than a toy, really, but was eternally fascinating nonetheless. My first genuinely usable digital cameras were two Nikon D100s with which I was able to deliver product in a fraction of the time, trouble and cost that film required. They offered a huge business advantage at the time, despite their actual technical shortcomings and high initial investment.
These days, for me, it is all about lightness, speed and convenience. I consider that my (now) elderly Olympus OMD E-M5 (with its M.Zuiko 14-150mm zoom) and my Panasonic Lumix LX100 (with its short, fast Leica Vario Summilux 11-34mm) provide the almost complete solution for the serious amateur – outside of highly specialised needs such as sports, wildlife or serious macro documentation.
Which photographers have influenced you?
Mostly keen amateurs that I knew in my early life and contemporary commercial photographers who were successful in selling pictures and getting work. But if I have to nominate well known photographers, they’d include: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, David Bailey and Alfred Stieglitz.
What do you think makes a good photograph?
From the viewpoint of a working shooter, a good commercial photograph provokes a desire for purchase. It should not try to tell the viewer everything about an item or subject – rather it should inspire a need for the potential purchaser to know more. From a practical point of view, it was also necessary that the image fit successfully as part of the overall design for a marketing tool. (e.g. poster, display ad or brochure). At the end of the day, a good photograph is one which someone wants to buy. The desirable qualities of such a photograph would heavily depend on the client and what best served his or her taste and needs of the moment.
From an amateur/creative point of view, the image should say something about the subject and/or provoke feelings in the viewer. Black and white is almost always more powerful at doing so than colour, which I think is most often a distraction from feelings.
What was your career path into photography?
As a teacher belonging to a team, tasked with introducing computers into classrooms in the early 1980s, I developed a number of industry contacts. It became apparent to me that digital workflow was destined to dramatically change many occupations – from publishing to advertising to course design. After I left education, I was employed to prepare and “desktop publish” packaged training courses. This led to the design of print advertising which offered more money and broader opportunities.
I eventually started my own print advertising business which required me to engage people to do commercial shoots. Not infrequently, photographers would be late or fail to show, leading to missed deadlines and lost contracts. Eventually, I found it better to do the shoots myself so that I could more reliably commit to the delivery of materials. In due course, photography came to constitute the bulk of the business and remained so until my retirement in 2009.
What advice would you give to an amateur photographer wanting to change their passion into a full-time profession?
When I was young, it was viable for competent retail photographers to set up shopfront premises in towns, villages and suburbs. Typically, they’d do family portraits, weddings, local events, baby pictures, real estate illustrations, general marketing stock and school student portfolios. They’d supplement their businesses with news pictures for local newspapers and some commercial contracts for other local businesses. Today, the bulk of that is gone.
Thousands of photographers were once employed on assignment for magazines, periodicals, journals and newspapers. Progressively, that source of work is drying up as well. Young couples routinely compile their wedding photographs from those taken by their friends and family members (usually with smart phones). There may still be highly specialised work for photographers in industrial situations, high end advertising, fashion and society weddings but the number of shooters actually earning a living in those areas is dramatically smaller than it once was.
In any event, the investment required to gain admission to photography as an occupation is increasingly soaring beyond the point that good returns can be expected. Increasingly, only the most flexible, ambitious, highly trained, talented and ruthless of individuals can expect to make sustainable incomes from photography and the cutthroat competition is frightening. Some photographic artists might well survive but they need to be very good, very persistent and very lucky. For the most part, such work is for part-timers with “day jobs”.
My advice to amateurs wanting to get into full-time professional photography today is, don’t try it! Do something else and continue to enjoy the freedom that being an amateur makes possible.
I have come to discover that Blipfoto is much more than being a reason to shoot and publish pictures every day. It is also an important form of social media. I find that through Blipfoto I have grown to know many people around the world and learned much from them. Being able to share personal experiences, feelings and fears with people like myself across the globe in recent times, has helped me a lot. I don’t know of any other site which offers what Blipfoto does.
For a retired person, there sometimes has to be reasons to get out of bed of a morning. Blip is one of my reasons. I need time to mentally focus before I can shoot worthwhile pictures, I find. When the personal pressure is off, I can usually do something worthwhile but if there is a lot on my plate it can become a challenge to produce images worth posting or discussing.
The biggest challenge with daily blipping is coming up with a worthwhile image and something sensible to say about it every day despite (at times) difficult circumstances. I have discovered that the moment I allow myself to only blip when it is convenient or when I feel especially inspired, two day breaks suddenly become two week or two month breaks! Then the ability to get back on the horse goes entirely missing despite the inner pressure (almost feelings of guilt) urging me to do so. Because of this I have had many breaks, some of which I was doubtful I’d return from.
I have met (in a virtual sense) many wonderful people through the site. I have also had opportunities to meet a surprising number of them in person. Invariably when I meet a blipper I have known online, I find them to be exactly as I thought they’d be. We meet and talk as naturally as if we’d known each other almost forever. In a very real sense, the Blipfoto community seems like a Blipfoto family. More often than not, when I finally DO return from one of my breaks, it is because I want to catch up with my friends. When Blipfoto was threatened with closure, it was amazing how many blippers shared personal contact details with me, keen to stay in touch.
One of the challenges I grapple with is that I cannot keep up with more journals than I do. There simply isn’t time.
Primarily what motivates me to keep blipping is my reason for shooting photographs, knowing that they will have an audience. Of virtually equal importance, however, is the keeping up with my Blip friends, to some of whom I have grown close.
If you like shooting pictures and want to improve at so doing, Blipfoto provides a wealth of ideas and encouragement. In the final analysis, it is a form of publication which provides a reason to shoot in the first place. The friendships you create along the way can stand by you even in times of personal isolation and difficulty. You will learn much about how people from diverse sub cultures view the personal and social issues that confront you. Somehow the shared experience makes life gentler and more digestible.
HOBBS’ TOP 10
David has shared his favourite ten blips with us - enjoy them here in this three-minute video.
Photo: Self-portrait by David