Learning to look

Duncan Chard was one of the original 16 photographers (inkopians) to join us when we launched in October last year. Duncan is philosophical about photography, believing that photography can show you the world in a different way.

“What is essential is learning to look. You take photographs by looking – and an image is the essence of what you see.”

Always a photographer

Duncan was in the cub scouts when he first got interested in photography. He was on holiday with his parents and his dad had an old Nikon camera. A helicopter flew over and he picked the camera up spontaneously and took a shot. When the picture was developed what resulted was an image of a totally motionless helicopter in silhouette against the sky with the blades frozen in time.

Duncan believes, “This was quite profound, and more than a 6-year-old could understand”. Since then he wanted to photograph everything, and he did so but without really understanding why or what he was doing. He submitted the helicopter image and various others to the cub scouts and achieved his badge for it.

From a traditional and structured background in the UK, Duncan was driven into typical classic subjects at school. His parents’ expectations for their son was entirely different to his own. Photography wasn’t a subject that featured on the school curriculum in those days and he failed his A levels, much to the disappointment of his parents. Eventually he confessed that photography was what he wanted to study and the route he wanted to take in his career.

Striking out with a belief in his skill and that this was the direction he wanted for his working life, he took a City & Guilds course. He admits it wasn’t the best, but he could use the dark rooms and it gave him the opportunity to pull his portfolio together so that he could move up onto a foundation course in photography in Bristol. This was followed by an editorial photography course at Brighton University.

Monochrome, Urban, Marine, Transport, Creek, Supplies, Boat

A personal narrative

At University he learnt that photography was about telling a story and communicating that to the viewer. Interestingly they presented him with a different perspective from the norm – photography should not be defined or limited with unseen restrictions projected by other people. As a photographer you shouldn’t be pigeon-holed. It is up to the photographer how they choose to use the skill and in whichever way they choose. As an artist Duncan was encouraged not be driven into a niche style or a stereotypical genre. As an artist it is his duty to explore photography and use imagery as a narrative in any way he chooses.

Telling your own narrative for personal pleasure is one thing, but as a professional photographer he understands that it is important to separate his personal style from his commercial persona.

Duncan admits, “Commercially people want to understand the world in a more simplistic way,” and as such he has to present his work in the one field in which he excels and loves to shoot; interiors and architecture. Clients take control over the direction of commercial shoots – obviously when working for brands the shoot becomes someone else’s narrative to tell their story and sell their product.

Monochrome, Animal, Goats, Car, Animals
Fight for ownership

A different perspective

His personal style is honest, however, warts and all – the reality of what he sees.

“Everyone sees something different. The way we see the world is learnt – and therefore we capture and communicate that honestly with a camera – this is the holy grail and the essence of photography for me. My reality can be different to yours.”

He explains how another photographer might take a photo of a sports car in front of a building, whereas he would look up and focus on the building and the street around him. The two photographs of essentially the same scene would produce very different results.

Monochrome, Scenery, Sign, Desert
Which way now


Duncan feels strongly that there is something very fundamental about photography, that it feels simpler and has more clarity. “For me it’s about communicating through images. Photographs are much more articulate and can show the world much better than I could ever do with words.”

Each moment in time is an event. He wants to be there when moments happen – capturing things that are never going to happen again.

“Moments are given rather than constructed – get out there and see what the world gifts you. But you have to be open to it.”

Monochrome, Urban, Shop, Shopping, Dubai
Shopping at Reza’s

Cameras don’t take photos, people do

Duncan believes a camera is a tool to capture what you see. “Nobody would ever have asked Picasso what brush he uses.”

Rather than the equipment you carry, it is your vision and how you look at the world and what you point your camera at that results in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ photographs.

Some people walk past and don’t see – photographers don’t walk past, they look, see and capture it.

“It’s the job of the photographer to look really hard and show, explain, have a message and a narrative – and bring that to those who have walked right past without seeing it.”

Duncan doesn’t believe in luck, rather that you have to be in the right place at the right time. “Pictures are happening all around us all the time. You just have to see them. I have spent hours waiting for the right shot. People say that was lucky. No, I took 1000 frames and waited all day….”

Henri Cartier Bresson – “The world is falling apart and he in California photographing rocks!” He was referring to his colleague, the conservation photojournalist Ansell Adams. In Duncan’s mind this sums up so much about photography and why the narrative behind it is so important. “How do you know what that importance is without understanding and seeing it?”

Monochrome, Automative, Scenery, Desert, Cars, Dunes, Sand
In motion

Bridge crossing

He had been driving back and forth past this bridge for this shot so much that he had the vision of what he wanted to capture long before he actually took it. He waited and took more and more shots to get the exact one with the perfect composition of people at the right moment. Someone from Instagram got in touch and put it on their feed. He received thousands of likes, an incredible kind of reach for one image. All of a sudden his Instagram feed became appreciated publicly. Strangers began to ask about the people in the image and wanting to understand more about the deeper layers of culture and politics behind it.

Duncan has had images on the front of the NY Times in the past and had not received the same kind of engagement and interaction about one of his photographs. This was the first time that people actually responded so that he could engage.

Monochrome, Urban, Walkway, People
Criss cross

Part 2: More to come on Duncan’s perception of the journey of each picture and his project centred around community mosques across the UAE.



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