I wrote this blog on my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs that runs OS9 on a CF card. With the hard drive removed there are no moving parts.
I wrote long-winded personal stories about my cameras (1, 2), leading me to consider more clearly why I take photographs.
As Heinrich Zimmer once noted, 'the best things can't be talked about' because 'the best things' transcend our ability to communicate them with language. Photography is a portal towards that unknown, pre-language place, before reason, before intellect, and from there can communicate things that can't be said. The impulse to photograph was deeper than reason at first. I was not conscious of my photography and spent little time wondering why I shot what I did.
After considerable reflection, I know that there is no reason to take photographs. A case could be made that there's no reason to get out of bed. Like gravity, which causes water to flow downhill, there's no reason that liquid water moves through earth's systems the way it does. It just happens. We analyze surface processes and break into pieces, but we are never closer to understanding why it exists at all. Should a person be asked to know precisely why he does what he does? And if he can say, is it real or simply approximation on 'that which can't be said.'
As far as subjects for my lens, from '07-'09, I found myself drawn further and deeper into the man/nature discord. Everywhere I went I shot the linear, angular forms of man juxtaposed with chaotic and organic forms of nature. I found myself too interested in how far modern life is from the underlying processes of nature, and it showed in my photography. These are very valid inquiries into the aesthetic of the modern world. I quenched my thirst by traveling to new places and shooting. Yet it began to be a downer, walking around imaging this kind of stuff and trying to make sense out of any of it.
Last year, after unexpectedly losing a job that was so hard to get, the personal value of my photography became much more clear. It really matters to me to take pictures of my world and my life. And it doesn't really matter beyond that. Yet I share my images because I think they may have value for other people, too. I try to package my thoughts in a coherent way, but rarely succeed. It is risky revealing so much internal processing openly in our modern world; one never knows who is watching, and worse, what they might be thinking about me. I practice shedding that concern by writing honestly, without ulterior motives, and focus on capturing images that are beautiful or compelling or at the very least, that share the joy that I have in taking pictures of my life going by.
"Very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?"
It's been fun asking for film around town, or talking to people about old cameras. Folks have fond stories of some old camera and a head-shaking lament about days gone by. "I loved my 110." One lady admitted she was no photographer, but she liked taking pictures. She made the point that 'we were poor.' There's a sense of solidarity in the poverty of takin' pictures with 'only' a 110. I think camera types through the years reflect class differences. Perhaps digital cameras do the same thing nowadays.
With the new dSLR, I learned a lot about cameras. Not photography. It necessitated further study of all kinds of technical crap that me (and you) suffered through. There were new limitations and new possibilities, but basically just differences. Higher image quality than my 2006 camera (H1), yes. That is the best part of my dSLR; it's small, with better image quality. Yet it fails for many shots: telephoto, macro, and low light. I'm underwhelmed that a $700 camera upgrade performs optimally in fewer conditions. So it began. The consumer fever. Not really. That's the trap though. I was already pretty happy about my photography with my H1. I'm pretty happy with the d5000, too. They're different cameras and I began to see that.
There is much I don't know about the technical side of photography. But from a fundamental position, I wonder if I might next set my sights on medium-large format field cameras. Nothing I have seen moves me like the images of Ansel Adams. Ansel's photography and love for shooting were unified with his existence, at least to the public at large. His body of work represents symbolically and actually, the beauty and the fire of existence that each of us carry inside.
There are practical limits to consider. I don't really want to get caught up in a darkroom required hobby. The setup costs of the chemicals and materials are likely to increase into the future. I've arbitrarily decided that 4x5 color format is a realistic direction to capture the depth and quality that I like to see. This type of photography has limits and would require considerable refinement of technique and intent on my part. Perhaps that is the allure. Well, that and comparing my 8"x12" prints to William Neill's work on a Wista field camera in the 'old days'. We're living in the future. It won't be long when there will be 100mp sensors capable unprecedented sharpness. Like the way the 100 pixel CCD became available in 1979. Who knew that CCDs would grow tenfold in resolution, only to be eclipsed by an alternate named CMOS? Incidentally, my digital cameras bracket this growing gap; the Sony is a 'last of the CCDs' and the Nikon is CMOS.
There will be billions of incredible images floating around the interwebs. I hope I'll be shooting and 'keeping it real' long into the future. Now is my time to look at the art and the science of photography. What is the use of 'latest and greatest' if what you seek to capture exists in an entirely different realm?
With this kind of rationale, I bought my first replacement lens yesterday. It is equivalent to a 52mm focal length. It was inexpensive (as far as lenses go) and is widely lauded for producing much better images than the kit lens. With the mechanical stuff that must go on to make a lens to a variable range of focal lengths, a fixed lens is likely better than the same focal length on a variable lens. The kit lens has practically no telephoto capability, and I've learned to get away from those types of images anyway. I've beem shooting with the kit lens in it's normal position of 52mm for the last 6 weeks or so and feel no loss for range. I like thinking more about where I am standing and how to compose a shot. Wider focal lengths are available by multi-shot mosaics that I've had reasonable success with.
This isn't the only new direction, as made clear by my writings of late. I am interested in the emotional response from different types of photographic images. I like different types of images. A few chance happenings and thrift store purchases later, I've got three more tools: a Polaroid SX70, pack film 320, and a 110 pocket camera. Why would one spend money and time learning nearly extinct film formats? Why ask why. The journey is the destination.
One of my favorite shots: from Kenji Kawano
I saw this image in a CD booklet for a guitar player's instrumental album. I went to the library, checked out this book. Luckily it contained a larger version, so I photographed it to share.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
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