A.B Watson lives and works in New Zealand. He’s been photographing since the age of 16 and has been named “The Zen Photographer”. I chatted with him to find out how this came about, but also about other aspects of his work, like being an assistant, inspiration, personal style and having limits.
How did you get started in photography?
I started in the darkroom in year 12 at school, I used our family film camera a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm 1.8 lens I believe. The moment I saw a photograph appear before my very eyes in a developing tray in the darkroom, it was like magic under a red light. I was fascinated, and after that moment photography has been a big part of my life.
Is it important to start out as an assistant before going on your own?
We all have our own ways of learning and for myself I learn best hands-on, trying, seeing, doing. And if that’s how you learn then I highly recommend assisting. On the other hand, it totally depends on where you want to take your photography. Commercially, the arts or personal projects. Knowing how an industry works it priceless and assisting is a quick way to learn that. But again if you’re just doing inner exploration and expressing yourself through your work then by all means do your own thing.
How did the nickname “The Zen Photographer” come about?
Leica gave it to me. They titled my interview with them ‘The Zen Photographer’ and it kinda stuck. I was very flattered when they called my interview that, I aspire to Zen practices and the mindset of Zen along with mediations and eastern and western philosophies are a big part of my life.
How does one create a personal style?
There are infinite ways to choose, make and express your own voice. To develop a personal style to say in the simplest form. “A personal style comes when imitation and influence perish.” For myself, I finally found my style when I emptied my cup so to speak. I went back to shooting as I did in year 12 again. I just played and forgot everything around me, my ambitions, other people’s work, composition, settings, I started from scratch again. I literally grabbed my camera and photographed like a child would with a disposable camera. It was freeing and once I started to look at the large body of work I was producing I found commonalities, patterns, a consistency, it was my style, my default.
In what way is having limits, be it in gear or in subject, an advantage?
I see it as a form of focus, specialising. Let me put it this way when you think of an athlete, they specialise, they only play one sport, and sometimes only one position in that sport, and as a result, they get really good at it. The same goes for all forms of professions. Don’t fear the man who knows 10,000 kicks, fears the man who knows one kick and has practised it 10,000 times. Handicapping yourself to one bit of gear or genre forces you to focus. As a result, you get really good at that one thing, and over time become a master at it.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?
All jobs have their bread and butter work that no one wants to do. You need to know that going in. The trick is to find a job or speciality where you love doing that bread and butter work. If you can be content with just that, then you will love your job and never work a day in your life. Find that one thing that no one wants to do or at the very least don’t want to continuously do, but for some strange reason, you love it. If you can fill that gap or create that service then you’ve made it.
Is there a quote that particularly inspires you?
“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live” ~Dalai Lama
You can know more about A.B Watson at http://www.abwatson.com