I often think back to an incident that happened quite a few years ago now. I had been asked by a wedding venue in the area to take photos for their new brochure. The shoot had gone well, and I was really pleased with the photos, so I went to the venue for a meeting to show the wedding coordinator my images. As I was waiting, one of the volunteers at the venue came up to me. He had seen the shoot unfold and was curious about my images. He asked if he could have a quick look at the photos before the coordinator arrived, so I took my laptop out of my bag and started to scroll through the images I'd taken. At first there was no response as I clicked through images of the couple, the details of the bride's dress, and the flowers. And then came a long 'Mmmmm', I knew it wasn't a satisfied retort, that long drawn out consonant was low in tone. 'Well you missed the focus on that' came the next line. The photo was one of the bride in the foreground and the groom in the background, I'd used a shallow depth of field to get this effect deliberately. 'Oh, you cut their heads off' came the next grumble, it was a photo of the couple holding hands, and I'd decided to focus on that. It carried on for a few more minutes, 'I wouldn't have taken it like that', 'why did you take it just of their shoes?'. It really knocked me for six. I started to feel really uncomfortable, my stomach churned, palms were a little sweaty, and then the coordinator walked in. Convinced I had absolutely missed the mark, I was really nervous showing her the photos. At the end of the viewing came the reassuring response 'these are exactly what we've been looking for'.
I know taste is such a personal thing, and I'm sure everyone has had similar experiences in their lives. In that moment I was really worried, but I am for ever grateful to this man at the venue. I've talked about this incident in our photography retreats as we chat about finding our voice as photographers. It's such a vivid moment for me still. I'm grateful to him as it absolutely made me realise that I couldn't please everyone with my images, and if I tried to do this, it would dilute any style I was trying to build. In that same week when I was showing the venue their photos, I was getting passport photos ready for a family and taking photos of some guttering for a couple who were having a dispute with their builder. I was trying to do so many things, to please everyone, and actually to the detriment of where and who I wanted to be.
I'm writing this now as I had an exchange at the weekend that took me right back to that nervy time of me showing the venue those wedding photos. We opened our doors for Hebden Bridge Open Studios. It was great to see so many new faces and to get a chance to talk about our work. Late on Sunday afternoon, just before we closed, a man walked in with a slightly quizzical look. He reminded me so much of the volunteer at the venue I actually felt my stomach lurch a little. He looked round in silence and then just stopped in front of one photo. 'This is my favourite'.