Teapot Photography

Wild desert blooms against the moon? Not really. These were shot against a lamp in Samira's terrace garden. Photograph/Samira Pillai

Wild desert blooms against the moon? Not really. These were shot against a lamp in Samira’s terrace garden. Photograph/Samira Pillai

Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company. –Author Unknown

I know a person, Samira, who is really into photography. She is so much into it that she actually rarely has the time to take any photos. It is difficult to be more hardcore than that. Samira arranges and prints photos by other photographers. And when she does not do that, she writes about photography. Like most artistic professions, it is hard work to make a decent living out of it. Therefore, Samira works long hours. Consequently, she usually only has the occasion to take photos the little time she is at home. Given that she is a tea drinker and that she never has time to really take photos, her resulting photos make others wonder if she is simply holding the camera in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, trying to relax after a hard day’s work. No matter if this is true or not, her friends call her a “teapot photographer”.

The truth is, Samira enjoys teapot photography, but working with photography she would, of course, not admit to that. After all, teapot photography seems so simplistic. And peculiar. But then again, teapot photography would hardly be the only peculiar thing among photographers…

One of the world’s foremost bird photographers, Brutus Östling, once spent three weeks up in a tree in some shed he had built and where he had even installed a toilet. Now that really seems peculiar. Teapot photography all of a sudden seems like a pretty reasonable kind of photography, at least compared to some hardcore bird photography.

And then there is the assistant to Steve Bloom. Steve is one of the world’s most impressive wildlife photographers. How do you think he smells after having spent weeks on some hot savannah trying hard not to get too close to the lions, hyenas, and whatever other hungry and antisocial carnivores are moving about in the bushes? Now, how do you think the assistant smells, having to follow along carrying all those heavy 600mm f/4 lenses and tripods as massive as oil pipelines? And he is not even taking photos, at least not photos that are published all over the world. Try googling “assistant to Steve Bloom” and there will be no results at all. But he does exist. One really has to like photography in order to put up with all that. Teapot photography, on the other hand, not only seems reasonable, but a lot more relaxing as well. Just like a cup of tea.

And what about the ferocious competition among news photographers? For them, the best way to get good photos is to be where the action is. The problem is, there are so many photographers out there that they push each other to be not only where the action is, but in the actual action. That is a great way of getting smudged lenses. Or a lot worse. And on top of that, it can go like it did for Robert Capa on D-day. After having survived the first wave of the landing in France while taking photos of living and dying soldiers, most of the photos were accidentally destroyed during development. I suppose that the most dangerous thing with teapot photography might be to accidentally trip on some sleeping housecat in the living room – which, if you were the assistant to Steve Bloom, would actually be really dangerous as that sleeping cat would be a lion. And they are really grumpy when woken up by clumsy photographer assistants.

So, teapot photography should perhaps not be underestimated. It is simple, relaxing, and with few hazards involved. At the same time, its simplicity is – like for everything simple – a real challenge to exploit successfully. A nice home, some soft curtains, a wooden table, a fauteuil with a foot stool, and a light coming from the side can really test the ability of any photographer trying to get the most out of such an everyday situation. Add some flowers, a teapot and a beaten guitar, and all kinds of moods can be expressed. No bird photographer stuck in some tree is gonna match the possibilities presented to a teapot photographer.

Samira’s teapot photography should therefore not be taken too lightly. And best of all, anyone can try teapot photography. Except those who prefer coffee.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: photography, funny, Gabriel Fuchs, humor, column, samira, lamp