Why you must find your photographic heroes

Benjamin Stevens

Giving credit where credit is due.


Recently I had the good fortune to stumble across a presentation given by Dutch landscape photographer Theo Bosboom.

His 70-minute presentation captivated me from start to finish. Entitled Shaped by the Sea, Bosboom takes us on a journey through his recent coastal work around Europe.

Bosboom is very much a photographer of intimate landscapes — though that is certainly not all he shoots.

His creative process advocates ‘looking well’ and seeing what you can find that is often overlooked by others.

He does not seek out grandiose landscapes in the search of garish images. He trusts that any landscape can provide him with original photographs. You might argue that a similar trust is extended to his own abilities as a photographer.

Indeed, he is a master at finding repetitive patterns in nature. Much of his work is also quite abstract, but not so abstract that you lose interest trying to figure out what he’s trying to say.

His compositions are strong and omit superfluous elements. Bosboom does not include anything in his photographs that he doesn’t want you to see.

Much of his work is also quite metaphorical.

Limpets huddling together on a surf-beaten rock. The bleakness of an Icelandic winter. The revitalizing effects of rain. The ubiquitous, assembly-line nature tourist.

And even in the title of the presentation itself, one wonders whether it is the subjects of Bosboom’s work or indeed Bosboom himself who has been shaped by the sea. Not that it really matters of course, but I suspect it is a combination of both.

But in the spirit of metaphors, allow me to continue.

Bosboom goes against the grain often. When most shoot the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland by facing the sea, Bosboom faces the shore. When most shoot fall leaves while they are still on the tree, Bosboom photographs the leaves once they have been washed into waterways.

Bosboom was a lawyer in a past life, and he seems a relatively reserved yet intelligent individual with an eye for detail. In his presentation, he is softly spoken and his facial expressions only seem to change perceptibly during a carefully inserted one-liner. His words, like his photographs, are unrushed and understated.

Less is more, as they say.

His work is simple, elegant, and understated at first glance. But it becomes more powerful with time because it, among other things, invites further contemplation.

Now I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Theo, but I imagine that he’d tend toward the introverted side of things.

He laments in his presentation that popular landmarks in Iceland and Ireland have been overrun with tourists. However, his lament was brief and somewhat introspective.

Bosboom mulled it over a while and then decided to start a project called Iceland Is Hot — a portrayal of tourists at popular landmarks. Armed with selfie-sticks and clad in jackets from one of the three primary colors, they swam over and around rocks like moths to a flame.

But I digress… because Theo Bosboom is one of my photographic heroes.

What are photographic heroes exactly? Why are they important?

Photographic heroes are not just photographers that you admire or look up to.

Photographic heroes are those whose work, values, and outlooks on life align with your own. They are photographers that you feel you’ve known your whole life.

They are also a source of inspiration. Bosboom’s approach to photography gave me the proverbial shot in the arm — to such an extent that I had to leave the house and photograph the forest not more than an hour after watching his presentation.

These are the people you want in your life, even if only virtually. They inspire you to do photography. They inspire you to write articles about them that go off on tangents with effusive praise.

If hero photographers are a little further along in their journeys — as Bosboom is relative to mine — then they also give you validation that your own work has merit. That you have something to say and that some find value in what you have to say.

I often preach that your work does not have to matter to others before you can feel good about yourself as a photographer. But in a world where loud, ostentatious, cookie-cutter photography seems far more celebrated, it is nice to know that the quiet expressive types are having their (albeit brief) moment in the sun.

Actually finding your photographic heroes

Finding your photographic heroes may be easier said than done. It requires that you sift through hundreds of portfolios and read hundreds of “About Me” pages to find images or words that resonate with your worldview.

In many cases, you won’t know what you’re looking for until you’ve found it. One day, it will happen rather serendipitously.

A photographer with a unique blend of life experiences, values, and morals will hopefully jump off the screen and slap you in the face. Suddenly, your life and purpose as a photographer make sense. You feel a sense of camaraderie, never mind the fact that you’ve never met this person or indeed even engaged with them. That can come later, of course.

The important thing is that your photographic hero provides the impetus for your own work. Actually finding them is another matter entirely. Camera clubs are a good place to start. Online communities such as Nature Photographers Network (NPN) are also beneficial for those who enjoy robust discussion on landscape photography.

Note also that many photographers are solitary workers by nature and may not be willing to share their thought processes or philosophy on photography. Many others may be largely unaware that their unique worldview touches others in some profound way.

If you happen to reach out to someone who speaks to you, don’t be offended if they offer little information or enthusiasm in return. It just may be that they are unaccustomed to expressing their feelings in words, having become so used to expressing them with the camera. If you persist long enough, you will undoubtedly find photographic mentors and heroes who, in the best-case scenarios, give your photography purpose or help you discover that long-lost motivation.

If you’re reading this Theo, I’d love to meet up the next time I’m on the continent. For everyone else, you can find more of Theo’s wonderful work here.

Who are some of your photographic heroes?

Comments / 0

Published by

Photographer and writer who is passionate about creativity, mindfulness and philosophy.

Seattle, WA

More from Benjamin Stevens

Comments / 0