I learned photography from many mentors and teachers: Lamar Philpot, Wallace Wilson, Evon Streetman, Randy Batista, and Laurie Hitzig among them. Alfred Stieglitz's vociferous defense of photography as an art form in itself appeals to me. I prefer a mode of photography that puts most of the effort in up-front, before the shutter snaps, and reserve the use of many of the techniques Stieglitz approved of as manipulations to exceptional cases. The primary manipulation of the photographer is to concentrate the attention of the viewer to the same subject as attracted the photographer. The fewer distractions from that aim, the better, or as Evon Streetman once told me, the photographer is responsible for everything in the frame. Just as different patterns of brush strokes or their absence is normal variation in painting, use of elements that may normally be considered flaws in a photographic ideal are simply a part of artistic expression in photography. These should be applied sparingly in my view, but my experience has been that knowing when they are appropriate is a talent worth fostering.
I earned my living via photography for several years (in photojournalism, then studio photography, scientific photography, and public relations work). The introduction I had to photography as fine art at the University of Florida, though, is a large part of how I think about my photography now. There are many forms of artistic expression that photography enables, and I pursue several of them.