National Slate Museum Llanberis February 2020. 51,200 ISO, 35mm f1.4 lens. Predetermined extreme High ISO to place Noise in the Shadows and Mid-tones. Processed for the window light on the enamel cups. I love the further hints of the harsh environment these men worked in suggested by the out of focus coats in the background.


This new series of 3 posts is about artistic authenticity and how possibly to achieve it.

Part 1 – Unto thine own self be true

Part 2 – “Sweetie, derivative is a not a nice word to say”

Part 3 – Learning from your mistakes


Note  – there is a variety of picture styles demonstrated in this blog post. This has been done specifically to address the issue of creaive malaise. 


Part 1 Unto thine own self be true

I have always worked photographically on the basis of “unto thine own self be true”. Perhaps I even quoted it in my book The ABC of CameraWork Manual. I don’t know why, but this idea has always been there for as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s because I am slightly dyslexic and my brain does not fully comply with standard visual norms. I have only ever been able to do photography in a way that comes naturally to me. However, I can fully appreciate all the great work of others when I see it.

This phrase is one of the many famous quotes coined by William Shakespeare. In Act 1, Scene III of the famous play, Hamlet, Polonius says:


“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”



This little speech by Polonius is a token of advice to his son, Laertes, as he departs for Paris. My understanding of the last line of the quote is that it contains four ideas.

A) Farewell

B) I give you my fatherly blessing for the trip to Paris

C) “Season” as in the adding of seasoning to food for a more intense sense of flavour

D) “this” in thee. “This” being to urge to his son “to thine own self be true”.


Strategic Statement 

The phrase “to thine own self be true” is a strategic artistic statement of the highest importance. It divides the leaders from the followers, the creatives from the wannabes, and the freethinkers from the conformists. More on this in part 2 of the series.


National Slate Museum Llanberis February 2020. 51,200 ISO, 8-16mm f 2.8 lens. Predetermined extreme High ISO to place Noise in the Shadows and Mid-tones. Processed for the window light from just out of the shot on the right on the Lathe.


Einstein many originally thought was wrong.

We are surrounded by those who have followed their own inkling of an idea that was kicking against the pricks so to speak in all walks of life from science to the arts. When Einstein settled upon the Theory of General Relativity in 1905 many thought he was wrong, miss-guided or just not properly understood. As astronomical phenomena were discovered starting in the 1960s, such as Quasars (1963), the 3-Kelvin microwave background radiation (1965), Pulsars (1967), and the first Black Hole candidates (1981), the General Theory explained their attributes, and measurement of them further confirmed Einstein was right all along.

Dinorwig Quarry February 2020 facing east from the viewing platform. Saturated colour with a nod to pioneering colour work of the Impressionists, Post-Impresionists and Scottish Colourists.


Artists were thought wrong as well

The currently most well-liked modern art movement in history, Impressionism (1865 – 1885), the name started out as a term of derision originated by Louis Leroy in April 1874. Leroy was a member of the all-powerful Académie des Beau Arts in Paris who were rejecting the early works of the likes of Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Paul Cezanne and Edgar Degas from the Academies Annual Salon (Exhibition). The Académie was the officially accepted arbiter of artistic taste and technique in French painting at the time. To get your picture hung in the annual salon was the height of artistic achievement.

As a side note – The Post-Impressionists creative painters such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were all given the same negative treatment by the Academie 20 years later. Protective attitudes had not changed for the better in the intervening years.


Each one of these rejected artists was working out their own methods of seeing and applying paint to a surface. Impressionism grew out of the works of the Romanticism (1780 – 1850) and French Realism (1848 – 1900). The surge in the Impressionists to be different and modern started roughly nine years before they were rejected by the Paris Académie. This wasn’t a youthful flash in the pan. The only truism – all things must change to survive. The Academicians were hell-bent on not accepting the poor work and ideas in their eyes of these upstart rebels. Leroy wrote in a review of a seascape by MonetImpression: Soleil Levant

“A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.”

The Académie wanted to maintain their self-imposed superior? standards of taste, decency and technique or else anybody could be and would be like them!

Above – An example of Repetition or Rhythm in a pictures design or geometry

A further example of those who were true to their own ideas. Gods musician, JS Bach was dead, buried and forgotten by the end of 1750. In his lifetime he was barely tolerated by his many composer sons, as well as the rector and congregation of the church where he worked as organist and choirmaster in Leipzig. After the first performance of The St Mathew Passion in 1729 a member of the congregation is said to have commented:

“God help us, tis surely an opera-comedy!”


Maybe the 3-hour long performance had taken its toll? He was seen to have an old-fashioned musical style that was barely acceptable to his boss and congregation. Just before Bach died, he wrote a book on Fugue theory, the style of which he was the absolute master in technique and performance. The book sold less than 40 copies in the five years after his death.

A reason why the world is so familiar with the pure genius of JS Bach is the enthusiasm of the romantic composer Robert Schumann who is quoted as saying:

” Music owes as much to JS Bach as religion does to its founder.”


This homage was made about 100 years after Bach’s demise.


Below – Highkey snow and paths on Snowdon, taken from Dinorwig Quarry in a howling gale from the opposite side of the valley with a 650mm lens. Perhaps there is a more finished picture on a preliminary roll of wall paper than this (for Louis Leroy)! 

Another supreme example of “unto thine own self be true” is Ludwig van Beethoven. Classical music as a genre was never the same after Beethoven. It is extremely rare to be able to note of an individual who shaped the course of music style and history from their own singular efforts. There was everybody before Beethoven and those who followed him quivering in the wake of his intellect and virtuosity.


I am definitely not connecting myself in any way to the genius and self-confidence of the examples from history I have used in this post. All I am doing is pointing a finger in their particular direction. I am being true to the way I see and compose my pictures, sometimes with good and ill effect. Ultimately, the only person I am out to satisfy is myself. If other people like what I do, that’s great. If the work I do is not fully contemporaneously accepted then there is a small chance that opinions may change over time. 


You must do what is suited to your personality and artistic need.


In Part 2 we will discuss the term “derivative” and its negative connotations.


Website Update

You may have heard the phrase “tempis figit (fugit)” – time passes and my website stays exactly as it was last left. I have updated web pages with the dates for 2020.

So if you have looked and not found a date or the ability to pay for your preferred date, my apologies please look again.


The What’s On When page will help.