This is harder to answer than it seems it should be for two reasons. One is that we're all influenced in one way or another by everything we see, hear, feel, smell, and touch: if you pull any thread in the right way, you can unravel all of existence. The other is that while I'd probably like to think I'm on my own path, it's simply got to be bullshit because of number one. I think that for me, the question boils down to the degree of directness of those influences. There are a bunch of books, movies, and artists that have made substantial impacts on my world-view and behavior and therefore have contributed to and shaped who I am as a person, which in turn shapes my work and my approach to it. Direct? Indirect? I don't know.
Things I can easily point to include: Nancy Breslin's Squaremeals project opened my eyes to the possibilities of pinhole motion.
I actively try to remember the lesson of not choking a scene that Ektopia brought home for me in this photo, which is part of his project, The Subconscious Art Of Graffiti Removal. Had I been there shooting with him, I would have strangled the life out of it, whereas he let it breathe with great success.
This photo by my friend Josh Briggs made me think, "Oh shit! Lens hacking!!". He worked at the photo store that I came to for help and supplies when I got the 501C/M and was trying to work out how the hell to use it. He told me that if I was hard up for subjects, I might want to have a look at shopping carts (trolleys), which he was already shooting very well. We went on regular cart shooting expeditions together, and I ended up doing my own series of them. I also discovered that although we were often shooting the exact same things seconds apart, there was no way one's work could be mistaken for the other's, thus illustrating Bayles & Orland's truism from Art & Fear that you can only make your own art.
Noah Lyon and I were good friends for a few years when we were teenagers. He has since abandoned photography in favor of drawing, painting, collage, and music, but he used to be really into it and made some astoundingly good pictures of New York punks in the early and mid 1990s. While he never put it into so many words, observing him was my first exposure to the concept of the "decisive moment". He'd watch us through the viewfinder of his camera, waiting, until everything was right for him. (I had no idea who Cartier-Bresson was at the time, but he undoubtedly did.)
Bruce Grant's work inspired me to stop trying to look for some tricky angle that does nothing more than meaninglessly indicate a direction, and embrace the fact that facing things head-on is sometimes best. While I got the message through his abstracts of buildings, I've found that this has probably had the most influence on my landscapes. Funny how this stuff works!
Victoria Slater has made me think there might always more to see. A fair bit of what she posts on Flickr are portraits of her daughter. I'd think a steady stream of pictures of the same person would get stale and boring in the roughly two years I've been following her work, but that's somehow not the case. It's one stunningly good shot after the next, each fresh and engaging, often taking days to really absorb. I'm beginning to suspect that I've stopped well short of fully explored with some projects, and that it's been at the fear of beating a dead horse rather than arriving at the animal itself.
Then there are the things that are harder to nail down, the people whose work affects me deeply and sticks in my mind and undoubtedly whispers to me, but where I'm not sure I can point to any specific thing and say, see that there, that's person x. I'm hesitant to name anybody, because I'm certain to leave out at least one of the insanely talented people whose work I get to see regularly online, and I don't want to do that.
That said, photographer Katie Cooke and I have lucked into a transatlantic artistic relationship that I value beyond words. Having someone care enough about my work to make me smell the shit of my own failures as well as make me see the successes I sometimes try to cast aside is an invaluable and immensely powerful thing. This isn't to say that she's out for blood (she isn't), or that she doesn't always try to find at least something that works in a piece to explore in the future (she does). But if something sucks, she tells me flat out and explains why. I try to do the same for her. If you find someone willing to offer you and your work this kind of constructive honesty—as opposed to the coddling sort of "grandmother compassion" that will say "great capture!" to a piece of utter crap, thereby making it much harder to learn from your work—for fuck's sake, take them up on it!
The only books I'm aware of having direct influences on my artmaking are Art & Fear: Observations on the Peril (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles and [Holga photographer] Ted Orland, and Orland's follow-up, The View From The Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way In An Uncertain World. I truly cannot overstate how valuable they've been to me, and I'd shove them down the throat of everybody even thinking of making any kind of art if it didn't constitute assault. They're probably the best $20 (combined!)
I've ever spent.
Books that have affected who I am as a person include:
Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, Kurt Gödel (not technically a book, but damn)
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
The Hacker Ethic, Pekka Himanen, Linus Torvalds, and Manuel Castells
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Douglas Adams
The Talisman, Stephen King and Peter Straub
How to Lie With Statistics, Darrell Huff
A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
Chaos: Making a New Science, James Gleick
The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers
While there's heaps of movies I love, sorting out the influential from the merely
enjoyable is tough.
The obvious ones are the original three Star Wars movies, which are the popular mythology of my generation, and undoubtedly influence how I see things in ways I can't really imagine.
Roadside Prophets is brilliant and somewhat indescribable mythical masterpiece. I suggest watching it as soon as possible, paying particular attention to Sam's (played by Adam Horovitz, aka Ad Rock of the Beastie Boys) hallucination in the desert.
Mystery Train is a movie by Jim Jarmusch of three overlapping stories of people in a hotel in Memphis. (If you're wondering which is the rip-off, Mystery Train pre-dates Four Rooms by five years.) One of the stories is about a rockabilly-obsessed Japanese tourist couple who are making a pilgrimage to Sun Studio. The man carefully takes pictures of all this random crap like the phone in their room, explaining that they'll remember the major events of the trip, but the little things will be forgotten unless he documents them.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. While you're laughing at me, I'll point out that the line, "if I'm not back in five minutes… just wait longer", is actually a fairly heavy-hitting, broadly-applicable philosophy.