Once upon a time if a rich family had a talentless son, they’d offload them to the church, brewing or the army. None of them needed skill or brainpower but brewing, like drug dealing and for the same reasons, always paid well The church was a pleasant niche for the unimaginative and provided a the house that the offspring would never be able to buy for himself. And the army, just do what your sergeant suggests while pretending it was your decision.
I’ve just been looking at a few pictures from Brooklyn Beckham’s coffee table book and it occurred to me – la plus ca change, le plus c’est le meme chose. If you have a child of whom you don’t expect very much you set them up in a job that requires little or no skill or where someone else supplies the skill. experience and artistry .
Photography is the new brewing, church or army. It is perfect for modern rich celebrity families because everyone knows that photographers can earn a lot of dosh. So when their kid appears in nightclubs and on yachts or in holiday destinations they could never afford for themselves – they earned it from photography. Actually, their parents give them the money, so the photography is a sort of social money laundering.
Remember Prince Andrew? He became a photographer. Air Miles Andy, the Prince of Pork and the spare heir. He said at the time that he had no ambition to become an Ansel Adams or Norman Parkinson. That’s one ambition he achieved, then.
In a spirit of reason, I come to praise Brooklyn, not bury him. But there’s a problem. His pictures are not up to praise. They aren’t pictures. They are snaps taken by someone who is trying too hard not to take snaps. They aren’t ‘What I see’ as the book title pompously implies because he hasn’t seen anything. He has just looked and pressed the shutter button. Looking is not seeing.
Snaps are great. I love them. Snaps are of people and places we love. They are shot in their millions and they have value because they are honest. They aren’t ‘What I See’, they are ‘What I Love’. The family dog shot from human eye level is a snapshot. If you want to photograph a dog or any animate being in an interesting way, get down to the animal’s eye level. Their eyes are the window to their souls too. But a snapshooter knows the family dog already. It’s his or her dog and the simple unthought snap is an expression of love. it is honest.
Brooklyn’s pictures don’t express anything. They are an immature attempt to convince you he is something he is not. I’d have been much more impressed with a book unashamedly made up of snapshots. His dad picking his nose. His mum not posing. He has no photographic experience but he has access to people others don’t. He should have used it. Then his book would at least have been interesting.
As it is, I think he is the loser and in a way, I feel sorry for him. Who doesn’t remember, at 16 or 17 years old, that burning hunger for something yet to be achieved. That first proper professional grown up camera and – dream on, kiddo, it’ll be a long time – that first by-line. if you were a press photographer, the first job on Fleet street, a magazine, a commission from the Mail or Der stern. Meeting your heroes, the people you wanted to be, who had achieved all you dreamed of. And the step by step achievement of those dreams.
I dreamt of walking up Fleet Street with a couple of Nikons slung nonchalantly over my shoulder. When I achieved it, it was even better than I imagined. But it took me 9 years to get there.
And then, there’s Brooklyn Beckham’s experience. Having decided he might like to ‘be a photographer’ – read that as ‘own a nice camera’, he is bought a Leica camera, handed a plum fashion assignment and shooed in to a coffee table book. All the things that an ambitious young photographer might set his sights on as goals to be pursued have been handed to him on a plate.
He has no experience, plainly (see the elephant pic) no technical knowledge and if he has developed an eye for a picture it is not in evidence. As Arthur Koestler observed, there are two ways to climb a mountain. A helicopter can drop you off at the top or you can clamber up, scrambling for grip, cutting your hands and gasping for breath. The mistake is to imagine that the view from the top is the same.
Brooklyn is not being helped by the people exploiting his parents name. Giving him assignments where experienced professionals do the work and he is given the kudos, having handed him the finest cameras that money can buy is not assisting him. It puts him in a position where, if he is serious about photography, he will find it difficult to achieve on his own what his doting parents and the oh so helpful publicity people behind all this nonsense have already given him.
Does anyone really think that handing a young bloke his dreams before he has even dreamed them for himself is good or caring thing to do? It strikes me as being like those ultra rich families who buy their son a 200 mph Ferrari for his 17th birthday. It isn’t for the kid, it is to signal to the world that they are so rich and successful that they can give to their children what most people could never afford for themselves.
Brooklyn Beckham and (or) his parents think that he can make a name through photography because it is easy. The people’s art, perhaps. It is true that it is easy to do. Who nowadays cannot afford a decent camera? Set to P – Program, P for Pissed as it was known in Fleet Street, it automates technically excellent pictures. The Beckhams and Prince Andrews of the world think that that makes it easy to shine.
They are wrong. It makes it more difficult. When everyone can do something, to stand out, to show talent, becomes more difficult. Photography isn’t a visual art except in execution. At its heart it is the same art as that of the novelist. It is the art of observation. To be a successful photographer you need experience of life, time to develop an attitude and a personal way of seeing and portraying the world. Take a look at Cartier-Bresson or England’s own Martin Parr and David Bailey. All have a sharp, often witty but above all personal perception of the world around them.
Their art is to show you how they see things, to offer an insight into a thought process and an existence other than your own. On a more mundane level, when I got my first publication in a national newspaper, I felt like Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne, I had crossed a diamond with a pearl. I was sitting on top of the world.
Brooklyn Beckham will never know that feeling. His parents and their publicity machine, in giving him everything, have left him nothing.