I'm sometimes asked what set me on the course I chose for a career. Goya has to be responsible for a large part of the decision, I reckon.
When I first encountered him it was through the illicit titilation of his nude Maja who, with her teasing gaze, completely seduced me. (She still does, and I'm far from a teenager these days). Only much later did his work produce a rather more profound influence. But the effect remains true. The visceral ability of art to reach out from a two dimensional surface right into your soul. Other forms of art don't touch me in quite the same way.
In Astrology, Magic and Alchemy, Saturn is the patron God of Artists, and, perhaps in this picture of Saturn devouring his children, Goya was commenting on the curse of self-awarness of all artists. It's a nice idea, one I particularly like, but the reason behind the picture is wide open to speculation. And I like that. That feeling of ambiguity. That a picture can provoke such disparate meanings, if you take the time to look. What a thing to create!
I think it was that feeling of creating something that meant more than its parts that fired me. Unfortunately I'm talentless in drawing or painting, but I did find early on that I could, on occasion, fashion from photography a kind of art that was my own.
That was, and still is, enough to keep me interested.
I very nearly took another path within photography, and I often wish I had. But then again, my reasons for doing so would have been wrong. Then it was for the adventure, to make a name for myself. Exactly the reasons why many did go and cover not just the Vietnam War but other conflicts. But the experience marked them for life. I'm thinking of my hero Don McCullin. This picture of a GI looking shocked and petrified, tells me everything I need to know about war.
Back then it would have been relatively easy to hop on a plane and just go. But I was a kid out of college, no money and not even a camera. So I took the commercial route instead. I still think I should have found a way and gone. Woulda, shouda, coulda.
But Goya was doing this a couple of hundred years ago. His Disastrous depictions of war under Napoleons army are perhaps even more forthright and shocking.
Which of course begs the question what's the point? Pictures like this do nothing to change the world, many argue. But I think they do. These things need documenting and unfortunately, the world constantly needs reminding. Today's photojournalists are finding it much, much tougher as they now find themselves the targets.
So the mobile phone in the hands of the participants is often the only way things get documented. Not a bad thing in my view. But there is still a desperate need for the more considered picture that only a photojournalist, or artist, can provide.