Steven Clennell is a member of the Princes Risborough Photographic Society (PRPS, where he is Programme Secretary (Judges)). He developed this talk during the Covid pandemic when it never actually got used, and so this was the first time he had delivered it “live”. (There is also a version of it on YouTube SEE HERE.)
In the first part of his presentation, gave us a very personal and moving account of his unfinished photographic journey. “I know where I’ve been. I don’t know where I’m going.”
He said he regarded himself as “a born romantic” who wanted little more from life than to meet a girl, fall in love, have a family, live happily ever after, etc, etc.
Nevertheless, he found himself in his thirties, single and miserable!
However, he met a lovely girl called Eszter from Transylvania. They fell in love and became engaged. Tragically however, suffering from terrible depression, Esther took her own life.
Steven was of course utterly devastated and struggled to maintain any real focus on anything. Then, walking by a reservoir one day, he saw a great cloud scene that stopped him in his tracks. He took a photo on his iPhone and used Snapseed to process the image into the scene that had transfixed him.
Through this experience, Steven realised he could focus on photography. And he also discovered a form of “mindfulness”. He found that focusing his conscious mind on photography helped his unconscious mind deal with all the turmoil of emotions he was struggling to process.
He quickly realised he wanted to do more than take pretty snapshots. He wanted his photographs to reveal some depth of emotion. This was not without its difficulties. He realised that he had no “style” of his own. And in seeking to develop his photography he perceived that light was not the most important element of an image – “no, it’s time!”
Steven suggested that the value of time was not to be underestimated. He was into landscape photography and time was needed for researching and scouting locations, travelling to locations, repeating visits to get better/different light or weather conditions, reviewing and selecting shots, processing images, and so on. And he was “time-poor”.
He also began to discover the joy and satisfaction of experimenting with different genres and different techniques – such as ICM, multiple exposures, long exposures, creative photography on his phone (using various apps), even throwing his camera up into the air! And he came to see that what is important is why you photograph something.
Then, unexpectedly, he met another lovely girl called Penny. She already had two children and they have since had a son. They are currently engaged.
The next part of Steven’s presentation concerned his entry into the world of camera clubs.
Steven reckoned he had some form of “imposter syndrome” and realised also that he did not deal well with “uncritical praise”. Friends and relatives tended to describe all his images as “marvellous” and he found this most unsatisfactory as he knew there were deficiencies. So, he joined PRPS.
He concluded almost immediately that “I can do this” and entered his first competition. His two images scored 15 and 20 he was “delighted” to be getting critical feedback from an independent judge. He thus discovered two things. First, that his photography was “OK”. And, secondly, that he could get better.
The rest of Steven’s presentation concerned his LRPS experience.
The Licentiate distinction awarded by the Royal Photographic Society (LRPS) is earned through the submission of a panel consisting of ten images (in print, digital, or book format) demonstrating knowledge and ability in a variety in approaches and techniques.
Steven developed a preliminary panel for an Advisory Day and then a final panel which was unsuccessful. However, as it was a near miss, he was invited to resubmit a suitable adjusted final panel and that was successful. His RPS expert adviser through this was Viveka Koh FRPS (who visited LBPC back in 2018).
Stephen described how he had put together his panel images. And he explained the creative thought process behind each of the marvellous pictures in his final panel image by image. And each one gave him a key learning point.
Subject engagement – a black and white portrait.
Treat animals the same as people – a black and white portrait of a stag.
Remember the fourth image – a striking black and white triptych of stylised self-portraits. As well as each individual image, it is important to consider the collection of images as a panel (as with the LRPS panel itself).
Small image equals big opportunity for failure – a black and white close-up of a leaf skeleton.
Kill your darlings – a black and white scene of a figure in the fog. This replaced another image after his unsuccessful submission. No one knows about your personal investment in a picture. So don’t allow that investment to cloud your judgement.
The “thing” is not the image – a colour image of a waterfall. After a substantial crop much improved the original image, he recognised the need to remove the superfluous.
Framing, patrol your edges – a colour image of a forest tree.
Creativity, consider the audience – a colour image of various blurred figures. Creative and abstract pictures are fine. But there must be something that viewers can understand.
It’s all about light – a colour image of an Icelandic sunrise.
Ignore the judge! – a colourful image of 30 blended light trails (called “Impressions of Speed”). Stephen considered it important to avoid “nodding dog” syndrome.
Steven’s presentation was a fascinating insight into the mind and creativity of a gifted photographer. Steven is an inspiring speaker and his compelling talk was lavishly illustrated with his imaginative images.
More of Steven’s images can be found on Flickr, Instagram, and Facebook.
Full details of the RPS Distinctions – Licentiate (LRPS), Associate (ARPS), and Fellow (FRPS) – can be found on the RPS website at https://rps.org/qualifications/#DI along with plenty of other helpful material.