50 years into his career, legendary Scottish photographer Albert Watson shares his passion for his profession.
I was born in Edinburgh, and grew up just south of there in Peniciuk, Midlothian. In school I studied graphic design, film, and television. My interest in the visual arts led me to photography.
As a young man, I was intrigued by Scottish scenery. There was something special about the variables in the light and weather atop the country’s raw and rugged landscape that spoke to me.
Later, after moving to the America in the early 1970s, I became fascinated with the human form and the landscape of emotion in the eyes and expressions of people.
I have had a very long journey in photography. From the first minute I picked up a camera, I have had that passion and I still have that passion. I have always kept an interest in still life, portraiture, and fashion, and I like to run all these things together.
I have been in New York now for 40 years – working, always doing my own projects, really holding on to all these experiences from the past, but always looking towards the future. I have had a circuitous journey to photography, but I’ve learned a lot along the way, and my experiences have had a great influence on how I work now. Perhaps most importantly, I have always followed my curiosity.
Learning photography is like learning to drive a car: the first time you get in a car, you think, I’ll never manage this, I am going to kill somebody. I am going to hit a wall, or, even worse, kill myself. And, after a week of lessons, you feel a little bit better about things. Then, in time, you begin to drive almost automatically…once you get over the hurdle of technical things in a car, you have learned to drive it.
Similarly, you learn to drive the camera, really know the camera inside out, study different kinds of lighting and understand what each can give you, and, when you have learned all of that, it opens doors creatively.
Good photographers learn to look inside their photos. When I was starting out, I’d have a vision in my head of a shot; I just didn’t have enough experience to carry it out. But your photography will get better the more you do it. In the beginning, you need to be shooting a hundred pictures a day, just keep shooting, keep shooting and analyzing the picture.
Put it on a wall, stare at it, go to sleep looking at it, and then, when you wake up in the morning, have another look. Then put it in a drawer and pull it out a week later, because great photography has to stand the test of time. You should be equally proud of an image you took 20 years ago as of one you took today.
Everything in photography is a delicate balance. You have to work very hard, but if you truly want to be a photographer and you are passionate about it, your passion should absolutely carry you through.