I’ve been working at loosening up, to be an in-the-moment shooter (think Eggleston, Friedlander, Leiter), ever-photographing my immediate surroundings or situations without predetermining an overarching project. But it’s a tricky one for me. I can’t seem to give myself that sense of total freedom for very long. I suppose that sounds strange to some photographers. I miss my early days in photography; playing with in-camera effects like depth of field, slow shutter speeds, double exposures… chrome one day, black and white the next… every frame of every roll a different little adventure. But as time went by, I became a project photographer, and it feels like every photo must have an invisible string attached to a meaning before I press the shutter. It’s not intentional, more of a psychological burden… I just don’t often feel motivated to make photos otherwise, though I often do see photographs lingering in the air, waiting to be snatched by someone more deserving than me. To help broaden my horizons, I’ve been trying to develop projects that are based more on feeling and personal geography, so that I can feel free to photograph unattached scenes, and to simply play/experiment more often. The scenes above and below, for instance, are from my neighborhood. So they are not just pretty pictures, but pictures that carry some meaning to me personally, and build on a theme (if not quite a project yet) concerning my home. However, had I come across these simple scenes in a foreign spot I may not even have lifted a camera to my eye. Unfortunately for me.
But at least I give myself permission to photograph anything in the radius of my home. And home is always relative.
I don’t have many negatives or photos left from my earliest days in photography. From what I do have, there is no evidence to suggest that I was a very good photographer. I had fun, though. There was a real mystery to what was happening in the camera, and how things would look after I photographed them. I loved that. Whether or not I am “good” now is debatable, but I am better than I was at framing a photo and controlling technique, at least… so there is some benefit to having structured my thinking and gone off toward certain ideas that interested me. But I have been feeling a little boxed in, creatively and technically. I’m looking to get off projects and move toward themes. To play. To sort of start over. To know what I know but be a kid again. Little tricks.
I’m trying to erase all of the shoulds and shouldn’ts in my head, trying to let loose and get at some base, instinctual response to the world. Letting go of any ideas/hopes of commercial success was hard– it’s a continual process of casting off. It just wasn’t fun anymore, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. What remains– the innards of me (artistically)– is a shattered, scattered mess. I still can’t decide on process and format. I’ve never had a good digital system… I can make decent pictures with what I have, but it’s a struggle. I’m using lenses designed for film cameras on a cropped sensor. Meanwhile, I’ve got my 35mm Nikons that fit my hand like a well-worn glove. I love playing with depth of field (didn’t realize how much I missed that), and I love the limitations and nuances of film, over the plasticity and endless options of digital. Digital is just…. too much.
So, I’ve been buying cheap film– processing black and white myself, having a lab do the c41– and scanning the results with my aging scanner. Eventually I must decide on a better process, and what I want the end result to be… inkjet prints? Hand printing in the darkroom? Online? Books?
I have never been one to enjoy chemical processes… I’ve met some very interesting people who are great photographers, and who are very enthused with the process of film and print development. For them, it seems to add a richness to the experience, and they travel down the roads of playing with expired film, cross-processing, antique processes and equipment, etc. Each has his own area of expertise and style. But most of that isn’t for me. For years, I processed my own black and white because it gave me control over my final output– I couldn’t afford a custom printer to do the work for me. I wouldn’t even know what to expect if I didn’t experiment myself and establish a range of possibilities. Once I had a base technique down, though, I wasn’t keen to vary from it. I just wanted what works, what gave me consistent results. When digital came along, I had the same freedom to play with color and control it through Photoshop and inkjet printing.
Which is not to say that processing doesn’t play a part in my own creativity. It’s definitely part of the cycle. There’s the raw world part… going into the living world to seek an image, the adrenaline and excitement of hunting and capturing something that speaks to you. Then, the processing of film (or the digital file)– editing, adjusting, tinkering. It all puts me through various stages of mind that are important to my creative process. Maybe it’s like fishing– especially if you enjoy catching the fish as well as cooking it and dining on it with a nice glass of wine at the end of a day.
With film, I have a love/hate relationship with the waiting period… it can be excruciating to wait for a roll of film to be finished and processed, then scanned, just to see a particular image. Yet, it’s like Christmas morning when you get to that stage, even better when you’ve forgotten what’s on that roll and you rediscover a good frame.
So far, the processing end has been hit and miss for me. Sometimes I am satisfied with the results of my scans, but uneasy that eventually a drum scan ($$) or a hand print will be necessary for the best expression of an image. But, with any artistic endeavor, there are hills to climb, necessary evils to overcome. I must admit that I am still groping blindly through this part of the process… trying to nail it down and give myself confidence that I’ll be able to see what I shoot. Nothing worse than poor technique ruining an image you were so excited to see.