A collection of portraits of Canon Ambassadors that are included in this article

Beyond the kitbag: What I’ve learned from photographers

I wonder how many images I have looked at during my life. I imagine it's a lot. More than I can count. Some have made me laugh, cry or wonder, and others made such an impact that they are imprinted in my mind. For a while, I have been exploring the passion that lies behind such images and what drives photographers to pick up the camera every day, even through the multitude of challenges it can present.

I’ve explored this through my monthly conversations with Canon Ambassadors for this very platform, trying to dig a little deeper into what lies behind their beautiful visuals. It’s been eye-opening, and I have often found that where a photographer is driven by a deeper purpose, the result is a truly impactful image. I also noticed that this drive tends to fall into three distinct areas, and they are the foundation that feeds a grander, beautiful vision… 

Love, grief, gratitude, individuality… what it means to be human

At the very core of us is our humanity and it could be said that this is the birthplace of great photography. Whether it comes from a place of self-exploration, learning to know others or simply tied to love, many of my conversations fall into personal experience. For Antonio Gibotta, humanity shows itself in all shapes and forms and testifies to our simplicity and complexity simultaneously. From tears of grief at a funeral, to expressions of the joy of life during the festival of Holi, he presents us with the cycle of life through his lens. This way of observing ourselves and the world is considered a great gift by Dafna Tal, who believes that awareness challenges us, while also making a lasting impression – and these are the images chosen to be a part of people’s lives.

A woman, surrounded by men at a cremation in India, raises her head to the sky and cries
“She wasn't supposed to cry any more, but she couldn't hold back her emotions.” © Antonio Gibotta

Some of the biggest questions of the human experience are around our own sense of self and many photographers find themselves turning the camera on themselves and others to try and find answers. Wanda Martin, for example, uses photography as a medium for self-discovery while exploring how young people are pushing the boundaries of identity. She adds her visual voice to a generation fighting to be who they want to be and love who they want to love. In her presentation of womanhood, I felt personally connected to the way Guia Besana explores femininity as an intricate balance of power and fragility, presenting a more nuanced truth to a narrative that can all too often be presented as clear cut. And Maud Chalard celebrates this – taking comfort in photographs that show feminine freedom. But it was when seeing the work of Aida Muluneh that I began to be more conscious of the duality that exists within ourselves – the masks we wear and the complexity we create. She describes how she uses her photography ask questions that perhaps have no true answer but can “provoke thought”. Which, in turn, starts conversations that might not ever have happened otherwise. 

As we grow older, we are able to reflect upon our childhoods and find common ground with our elders and a fresh perspective on our families. But the feelings this can conjure up are often difficult to express. Audun Rikardsen has adopted photography as an extension of his language – letting him articulate the things he might struggle to say out loud. His most personal picture was powerful enough to express his love and gratitude to his father. While, Helen Bartlett uses family photography as a way to make memories for others, continuing the legacy of her father, who spent so much time taking photographs of her and her brother.

A red boat sails on cold grey water, with a huge floating iceberg behind it.
“As the boat got closer to the iceberg, I was hit by an unexpected physical sensation – almost like opening a freezer – the closer you got the colder it was.” © Paulo Verzone

Passion, protection and preservation… for the planet and its creatures

Many beautiful photographs have been taken of nature and the animals roaming in it, but few stand out like the work of Chris Fallows. His fine art photography, passion and life's work is centred around the preservation of predators and iconic animals. Christian Ziegler too uses photography as a tool to raise awareness around endangered species, dedicating his time and work to show the world that there are places in this world that should be left untouched. But while it is important to be watchful and protective of nature, Paolo Verzone reminds us that it is also unstoppable and out of our control, using extraordinary visual tales to bring home the power of nature and how it impacts us as humans. 

Necessary questions, representation and truthtelling… driving change through social awareness

By raising awareness, images can be an agent of societal change. In a time of questions, people rising, and voices being heard, they are a key element in global communication – telling stories using one shared language. Speaking to Ilvy Njiokiktjien was my first experience of this and it’s something I can’t wait to speak to more Canon Ambassadors about. Ilvy documented the generation growing up after apartheid in South Africa, saying “it really changed me. It has made me wiser about the world and made me realise how privileged I am." This kind of humbling experience was shared by Daniel Etter, whose passion for the refugee crisis is clear through his powerful work. He speaks of photography as a medium to inform people of issues that are relevant to our lives. Ultimately, like Daniel, we want to be purposeful, and this is why there is something so quietly powerful about Pie Aerts’ work. Yes, it brings a visual calm that reflects his exploration of silence, but he also brings us the tale of a culture that's disappearing right before our eyes, reminding us of ‘invisible people’ with simpler lives from whom we have much to learn.

A couple kissing in a car. The windscreen slightly steamed.
“There they were; Zakithi and Wilmarie.” © Ilvy Njiokiktjien

Something to think about 

I'm on a quest to learn more about all the ways photographers find their purpose and there are so many more conversations to have. We all have some relationship with images and it's fascinating to consider how they can be an extension of who we are and perhaps a way to understand those around us. When you begin to think about little marks we make on the world and how we can inspire change, it's easy to slide into deep pondering – the more you look, the more you may discover. We may be searching for purpose, but these photographers are finding theirs and handing it over as inspiration. So, perhaps on our quest, photography can be our trusted partner – guiding us through our experience of life. Isn't that something quite beautiful to think about?

Written by Cecilie Harris