Following is a beautiful letter written by Sergio Larrain in 1982 to his nephew, who had previously asked Larrain where to begin to become a photographer.
First and foremost, you have to have a camera that fits you well, one that you like, because it’s about feeling comfortable with what you have in your hands: the equipment is key to any profession, and it should have nothing more than the strictly necessary features. Secondly, get yourself an enlarger, the easiest and most useful you can find (the smallest manufactured by LEITZ is the best for the 35mm format, it will last your whole lifetime).
The game is going on an adventure, like a sailor boat: drop the sails. Go to Valparaiso or Chiloè, be in the street all day long, wander and wander in unknown places, sit under a tree when you’re tired, buy a banana or some bread and get on the first train, go wherever you like, and look, draw a bit, and look. Get away from the things you know, get closer to those you don’t know, go from one place to the other, places you like. Then, you’ll start finding things, images will be forming into your head, consider them as apparitions.
When you will be back home, develop, print and start looking at what you fished, all of your fishes, print them in the size of a postcard and tape them to a wall, and look at them. Then, start playing around with the L, cropping and framing, thus you will learn about composition and geometry. Enlarge what you framed and leave it on the wall. By looking, you will learn to see. When you are certain that a photograph is not good, throw it in the bin. Tape the best ones higher on the wall, and eventually look at those only (keeping the not-so-good one gets you used to not-so-goodness). Only save the good ones, throw everything else away, because the psyche carries everything one keeps.
Then do some exercise, use your time to do other things, and don’t worry about it. Start studying the work of others and looking for something good in whatever comes into your hands: books, magazines, etc. and keep the best ones, and cut them out if you can, keep the good things and tape them to the wall next to yours, and if you can’t cut them out, open the book or magazine at the good pages and leave it open. Leave it there for weeks, months, until it speaks to you: it takes time to see, but the secret will slowly reveal itself, and eventually you will see what is good and the essence of everything.
Go on with your life, draw a bit, take a walk, but don’t force yourself to taking photographs: this kills the poetry, the life in it gets sick. It would be like forcing love or a friendship: you can’t do it. Then you can take a new journey: to Porto Aguire, you can ride down the Baker to the storms in Aysén; Valparaiso is always beautiful, it’s getting lost in the magic, getting lost for days up and down its slopes and streets, sleeping in a sleeping bag, so much soaked in reality – like a swimmer in the water – that nothing distracts you, nothing conventional.
Let your feet guide you, slowly, as if you were cured by the pleasure of looking, humming, and what you will see you will start photographing more carefully, and you will learn about composition and framing, you will do it with your camera, and thus your cart will fill with fishes, and you will go back home. Learn about focus, aperture, close-ups, saturation, shutter speed, ecc. Learn how to play with your camera and its possibilities, and collect poetry (yours and that of others), keep everything good you can find, even that done by others. Make a collection of good things: like a small museum in a folder.
Photograph the way you like it. Don’t believe in nothing but your taste, you are life and it’s life that chooses. Don’t look at what you don’t like, there’s no need to. You are the only criterion, but also consider everything else. Keep learning. When you will have some good photos, enlarge them, make a small exhibition or put them in a book, have it bound. Showing your photographs will make you realize what they are, you will understand only when you will see them in front of others. Making an exhibition is giving something, like giving food, it’s good that others are shown something down with work and pleasure. It’s not bragging, it’s good to you, it’s good to everybody and it’s good for you because it gives you feedback.
Good, that’s enough to start. It’s about vagabonding much, sitting down a tree anywhere. It’s wandering in the universe by yourself: thus you will start again looking. The conventional world puts a veil over your eyes, it’s a matter of taking it off during the period of photography.