Over the past couple of years, my appreciation for the simplicity with which the world is rendered by black and white film has grown. I have exposed many a roll of b&w over the years, but more often I find myself appreciating how much quieter black and white is. Sure, the scenes can still be dramatic, but there can sometimes be a brashness to colour that I don’t seem to find as much in black and white film. It makes for a simpler, quieter world…. at least how I use it. And I guess that is the chicken meeting the egg. Is the world really that much softer of personality in black and white, or do I see and record such a world when I am in a black and white film mentality? Am I finding what I seek, or seeking what I find?
There is something to be said about how a film or a lens or a camera influences and feeds how you think, look and photograph. The technical qualities of a specific camera, or roll of black and white film aside, it is important to be aware of the mental process that is engaged when using a certain piece of equipment.
Is the world simpler and quieter in black and white, or do I make it thus because I was in a mood to go looking for it and chose the right equipment to pursue that? Yes and yes and sometimes no.
I saw this open window making sure that I knew where to look. In truth, I was trying to look everywhere as it was a beautiful spot to be. So I appreciated this subtle direction as to where I should focus.
Nothing’s going to happen unless you take a risk
The next time you disregard my feelings,
Be certain you don’t need me in the future.
Floating in the void
Between there and back
It’s all bright in front
And it’s all dark behind
Living for the now that’s in between the bridges and the signs
And getting there is still a long way to go
While others dream and wish
This is everything officially I need to know
Happy, boy you bet I am
Holding on to this smile for just as long as I can
Photography to me is an emotional endeavour. I am a pretty rational, analytical and logical person, or at least I try to be.
I do love to think and analyse things, situations and people. It is not that I am unemotional; I just value analytical and rational thought in such times over emotional thought.
But that changes when I get out into the world with a camera. As I said above, photography is an emotional activity for me. I try to photograph based on feeling rather than reason, emotions as opposed to logic. Sure, some analysis is necessary, I still meter and do the requisite math to calculate the long exposures I am fond of, but I get that work done as quickly as I can and it is only a means to an end. I don’t aim to make photos that represent technical achievement or superb rational execution. I like to try to make photos that reflect how I felt in a certain moment and that usually involves photos that contain some sense of the wonder I see and feel about the world when I am out in it as a photographer.
Perhaps that is why I have taken so well to pinhole and the old world photography processes. These types of photography are less about analysis than they are about intuition; they are less about documentation than they are about a slightly ethereal memory of being somewhere. It is then easy to dream, and dreams tend to be driven by emotion.
Anyway, the idea for this reflection came about due to a thought I was having regarding the difference between looking at the situation rationally versus emotionally. I was leaning towards the rational perspective, unsurprisingly. Then I sit down at the computer and start editing and looking at images and realised that they showed a very different version of me looking at the world and I found that interesting.
I’ve burned my bridges
And I am free at last
All my chains
Are in the past
The day is wide open
The sky is blue
The world is a miracle
And so are you
The New Life starts here
Racists, bigots and stalkers
Banging at my door
I’m not fighting with them
Friends, Family and Pretenders
How do you do?
I can make it
With or without you
Citizens of the world
Child, woman and man
The keys to the kingdom
Are in your own hands
The New Life starts here.
The idea of inhabiting a prison we cannot see, one that we have sneakily built around ourselves, to be chained by invisible constraints (as an artist at least) is a fascinating little topic to dwell upon. Day by day, year by year we grow and as we do we develop patterns, we learn what is “correct”… we become ourselves and that self develops a stable definition. But what if that definition is really a trap. Take for example the common question that photographers, myself included, have wrestled with: what is my style? As beginners it often feels like this is something that must be answered. How can we be any good if we don’t have a definitive style, a sense of exactly who or what we are? But what if in defining who we are we also inadvertently define who we aren’t, or won’t be? Often I am impressed by the work of carefree photographers. What they lack in experience or accumulated technical knowledge they more than make up for in one particular area. I don’t know what to call this other than they don’t yet know what they aren’t supposed to do, so they do everything. They don’t yet know who they are supposed to be as a photographer, so they try many things.
Having rules can be a great way to learn but at some point if that structure is clung on too tightly it easily becomes a cage and demonstrate this by posing questions such as; can every image in the world conform to rule of thirds? Of course not. So if all you know is that rule, think of all you will not be capable of knowing. Or should every image have odd number of elements? Should every image be colour?
I think the notion I am talking about is an interesting one to consider and wrestle with, or at least be aware of. It is not a question of depth versus breadth. And that is because, even if you are in favour of depth and focus, within that depth there are still certain constraints upon your creativity… certain blind spots that you are not capable of seeing. And it is really hard to identify something you cannot see. Like a missing tooth, after time we become so use to the gaps in our vision we don’t even see them.
What to do about this? I’m not entirely sure. I keep being fascinated by trying to be aware of the stuff that I am not aware of. I try to worry at the gaps in my vision and not become accustomed to them. I try to not let myself become too comfortable. Comfortable may be enjoyable but it is also anathema to creativity. And I endeavour to try something new constantly, be it new films or new cameras or new lenses, like this Daguerreotype Achromat Artlens.
And that is why I have been running around with this thing of recent. It isn’t because I have any particular images in mind I want to create, but rather it is because I want to explore and try to approach things a bit different than I would normally be inclined to do. Of course, my own internal devil’s advocate would say that experimentation and exploration are my normal tendencies so how is that really pushing any boundaries…
As daybreak breaks the mist upon the earth
It came to pass that beauty settled there forever more
Now there’s hope reborn with every morning
See the future clearly at its dawning
Forever drifting slowly towards a hazy emptiness
As water slips into the sea……
The transition from night to day isn’t very abrupt; it can last a lifetime if you let it.
Nothing’s new no good no bad
The heat goes on and it drives you mad
Scornful thoughts that fly your way
Just turn away cause there’s nothing more to say
You gave the best you had to give
You only have one life to live
You fought so hard you were a slave
After all you gave there was nothing left to save
You read the book you turn the page
You change your life in a thousand ways
The dawn of reason lights your eyes
To the kingdom of the wise
Nothing ventured nothing gained
No more lingering doubt remained
Nothing sacred or profane
Everything to gain
It occurs to me that these days one must go farther and farther to escape the crowds. I witnessed how larger and larger numbers of people are travelling and places are getting more and more crowded. In part this is driven by the internet and social media. It is easier to publicise a place and we are drawn like moths to a flame to the places that sites such as Instagram subtly tell us are the “it” places that one must visit in their life. Look at Iceland, look at New Zealand, sure. But even on a smaller, more local scale I see beaches and trails becoming more packed. I don’t know what I think of this. On one hand I find it repellent and annoying to navigate crowds of people when my goal is to get somewhere away from people. On the other hand, I can hardly fault these people for wanting to get out into beautiful places. They are doing the same thing I am doing and I can no more fault them than I can, or should, myself. But at the same time the increasing numbers present issues. The more individuals through an area the more wear on that area, the more litter, the more people climbing through alpine meadows off-trail, or scaling sea stacks at the beach disturbing the natural bird life. We slowly erode that which we love.
On a photographic level the unwanted wanderer has long been a bane to the photographer wanting to get “the shot”. I remember struggling with this in my early days, waiting patiently and sometimes not so patiently, for that man in the red raincoat to get along his merry way and out of the frame I have been composing for the past ten minutes. But that was then. These days I rarely experience the issue and in large part that is because of the world of photography that long exposure and pinhole has opened up to me. When you are making 10 second, or eight minute exposures, crowds not present much less an issue but actually they create an opportunity. So many times the essence of a particular landscape image to me is based on the unpredictable blur of people moving within the frame. Now my struggles laughably tend toward the opposite end of the spectrum. I set up to make a long exposure of people within a landscape and I get a minute into a four minute exposure and they get up and leave the frame, barely registering as ghosts at that point. I want to run in and tell them to not get out of my way.
The photographic aspect of this issue is a fun one to wrestle with, the non-photographic aspects of growing crowds though has me a little concerned at times.