Some musings (codeword for a bit of a ramble!) on how different pursuits mean different things to different people.
As a lad I used to enjoy making the occasional meal. My dad loved my enchiladas, and making them myself was the one way to guarantee they'd be spicy enough for my taste. Leaving home first as a student (not much cooking happened then I can tell you that!) and then working in London necessitated that I fend for myself, so I learned how to cook.
Over time I've picked up a few tricks and can knock out a pretty decent meal without much need for a recipe book. I enjoy cooking, and often create an over elaborate meal over the course of hours (and a lot of mess!). It can be quite meditative, at times challenging and ultimately rewarding. Anything spicy is on the menu, Indian curries with all the accompaniments being my speciality.
Occasionally friends will tell me they couldn't get a better meal at a restaurant (of course they're just being nice) and sometimes I daydream about opening a restaurant when I watch Masterchef - before realising that a chef that makes loads of mess and takes hours for 4 plates of food isn't exactly in high demand! In reality my culinary aspirations are modest. Cooking food I enjoy for my family, throwing in a bit of "Fawkes flair" (otherwise known as chilli) to keep the creative juices flowing. I enjoy cooking and like to put a nice meal together, but I don't go stir crazy (pun intended) if I can't cook in a given week. I'm happy enough with that.
Last year I started making sourdough bread. People think this is hard but it's actually realise quite straightforward. You make a 'starter' from flour and water and use this instead of yeast when baking. The starter takes a wee bit of looking after by feeding it flour and water regularly, but it's just a matter of remembering rather than being time intensive or difficult. Making a loaf takes a wee bit of labour with the kneading but otherwise it's easy enough.
I've had a few disasters along the way which taught me lessons - making sure I give the dough time to rise, don't let the dough dry out, get your quantities right, etc - and over time have developed a feel for what makes a decent loaf. I stick to one recipe. My first foray into experimentation last week by adding caraway seeds was not well received by my wife. That aside she's pretty positive about my bread products - "you're getting a bit good at this aren't you?" - and it's great seeing and smelling a well risen crusty loaf coming out of the oven. I'm happy with that.
You may be wondering why this culinary talk has any place on my photography website. Just bear with me a minute.
New recipe books are interesting and I like to try something new, but most of the things in my books are left uncooked. Acquiring a new book is a matter of need ("how do you cook Lebanese?") rather than a driving desire to consume as much knowledge about cuisine and cooking as I can. I don't have a million gadgets to make my life easier. I don't create something for the sake of it, but because I need to eat. I experiment a little on our family meals just for a bit of fun rather than because an inner creative need demands it. I don't go out of my way to get some of the more exotic ingredients and certainly don't spend hours wondering at the produce at food markets. I have no desire to open a restaurant, for a Michelin star, to write a recipe book, to invent the most amazing dishes known to mankind or any of the other things that someone passionate about cooking might have as their life's ambition.
Equally when it comes to bread I'm no Paul Hollywood. I'm not going to invent new breads, open a bakery, try all the weird and wonderful (and laborious!) breads that are in my bread books. I've got a bowl and a baking stone and they're all the gadgets I really need even though there's a wonderful world of cloches, bakers' ovens and the rest to explore. The truth is, I just don't care enough to throw myself into baking. Being able to turn out a nice loaf on a regular basis is enough for me. If people say "that's the best bread I've ever tasted" that's great, but they probably only know supermarket bread and could probably bake as good it not better themselves. My baking ambitions are pretty modest.
And so to the photograph maker. Well, that's totally different. If I'm not making photographs I'm looking at them, reading about them, thinking about them. Sometimes it feels like every non-photography thought that enters my head is a distracting intruder and is swiftly jettisoned. I've read the recipe books, and am moving beyond them. I'm trying to do my own thing, find my unique voice and offering to the world.
One day I'll be writing my own books, exhibiting and perhaps opening my own gallery. If someone says "nice picture" (especially on Flickr!) it's not enough. I want more - more connection, more emotion, more of my personality to shine through. It sounds corny, but photography isn't so much like something I do but a part of who I am. My life. I suspect you may know what I mean by that.
I realise that photography probably means something different to you than it does to me. Perhaps you too feel like it's core to your life, but almost certainly not in the exact same way it is to me. Another may read the above and think I'm totally insane! For each of us it means different things in different ways and each of us should embrace that I think.
For some it's a pastime, something to get out and about and ease the stresses of the day. Taking an image you'd like to put on your wall - or even better on someone else's - may be all that they're looking for. They are no less deserving of the gift of photography than I or others that immerse themselves in it.
Photography to you may be what cooking or baking is to me, something I enjoy but not something I'm screaming to do. I'm sure there are plenty of aspiring chefs that would turn their nose up at a meal I present them, or aspiring bakers wondering why I keep making the same loaf of sourdough. So as far as I'm concerned, it's not for me to judge the merit of their sunset image without first understanding their self-perspective of what photography means to them.
Photography is a gift. Indeed, the world is full of wonderful gifts and it's for each of us to take them and make of them what we will. Don't worry about what other people think and don't feel like you have to justify yourself to them. Stick to your guns. Yes, listen to what others have to say but then relate it to your own world. The key person that matters in your world is you, and you set the rules.
With that said, I'm going to leave you with a little sting in the tail. If photography truly is something you are passionate about then don't be content making images from someone else's recipe book. If you do then perhaps you are selling yourself short.