Are you really going to tell me you've never learned anything from looking at other's work? I would find that highly amazing if not highly improbable. And if you still insist you don't, then the question becomes why?
Chris, I think we are getting embroiled in semantics.
I grew up digesting Life
(available in India at the time), buying all the Popular Photography Annuals
for several years; the late, great, lamented British magazine edited by Norman Hall called, simply, Photography
where I had my first published girl; buying a huge collection of books by Peter Gowland, Peter Basch, Don Ornitz and Russ Meyer. As I moved along, I admired Bill King, Richard Avedon, Albert Watson. I bought years of subscription to Playboy, British Vogue
(where, much later, I had several spreads of travel fashion shoots), Nova, Harper's Bazaar, French PHOTO, Pirelli Calendar Book (two editions)
and God alone knows what else.
Yes, I saw a helluva lot of stuff, ranging from W. Eugen Smith and, via the fashion kings (and one or two great fashion camera divas) to the pinup kings, as I remarked above.
But did I learn anything?
In the sense that I believe you to mean it, no. That I simply had to be a photographer, yes, that I did confirm for myself. All that drifted off slightly from the original plan was that I had had an idea about travel books: photographing places and writing about them. Got into that mindset because I used to read a lot of such material as a child. That, and detective fiction. An attraction for the movies led me to write to David Lean who, to my surprise, answered and suggested the way into the business was moving to London and a job as a tea boy. I lived in Scotland. No chance.
As for Ďlearningí how to shoot things Ė I always seemed to know.
I had to go to photographic night school as part of the deal when I joined my first professional photo-unit as a trainee. I lasted a couple of terms and quit the course when I realised the employers didnít really give a damn if I went or not; the actual push came from within the night the guy Ďteachingí portraiture on a bloody wooden camera and using photofloods (I already had made up my own flash brolly unit with modelling light, which I used at home) informed me that were he to photograph in the maner of David Bailey (one of my then contemporary heroes), he would abandon photography. As I had no intention of using half-plate cameras, looking at women upside down and buying a neck brace for the sitters (or for myself?), I voted with my feet. I never went back. I now realise that there are certain people who do like looking at women upside down, but I donít figure Iím one. Maybe I missed a marketing niche?
So if you did refer to stylistics, techniques, I think not. I learned zilch from anyone. However, had I ever been an assistant with one of the stars of the fashion world, Iím sure I would have probably have had to become a clone. On the one hand, I regret never having had the opportunity but, at the same time, I didnít do too badly, so it ended okay if a smidgen too quickly for the absolute happiness of my bank account!
I know pefectly well that claiming to have always known how to make images might sound like another ego exploding; I can only confirm to you that thatís how it felt. Itís like falling in love: you just know when itís right, and if you donít, donít! The closest I can get to discovering Iíve learned anything is this: I hate vulgarity in pictures; I love to make women as beautiful as I can. None Iíve seen is utterly so, but some can help us create the myth together. Maybe my idols taught me that?