Last night I found myself struggling for sleep, a quest that slowly deteriorated into a full scale rout, with me on the losing side. Giving in, I turned on the netbook and wandered over to Flickr.
After a while I found myself looking at the photographs of a recent contact, someone I ‘met’ through Twitter in recent weeks.
And I was puzzled. I looked and I looked and I flicked backwards and forwards through hundreds of photos. And I still didn’t understand. They were repetitive, mundane, banal in their technical and thematic simplicity. If one could identify any form of theme at all. I both did not understand the photographs, nor could I decide if I liked them.
After a while I did begin to see. I did begin to understand.
There was nothing to see. Nothing to understand. That was the broad simplicity of what was on view, they were mundane and banal and lacking in anything approaching stylistic integrity. Except they did have, that very lack of cohesion and artistic intent lending a rough but intriguing commentary.
They were photographs of the everyday, linked by common threads, such as semi-regular photographs of a particular billboard or shop windows. As a whole, they hint at an insight, not into what is intended to be conveyed, artistically or otherwise, but simply at what is. They become an insight in themselves, into the photographer as a person rather than the photographer as an artist, and yet there is an integrity in that simplicity and that metronomic impartiality. These images exist, day in, day out, strangely lacking in cliche due to the photographer’s direct and unmitigated approach. Conveying only themselves, and lacking overt aesthetic overtones, they form a style of their own, depicting reality as honestly as possible, within the framework of a photographic world where the intention is towards amplification and the convergence of the expected and the unexpected.
In the end, tired and miserable from a continuing lack of sleep, I found my mood lightened and enlightened, and took real pleasure in the images, letting go of my inherent too-informed and all-too cliched expectations to enjoy a body of work that, to my less than profound interpretation, could be described as a snapshot of that which simply ‘is’.
I am currently reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography and am finding it very interesting indeed.
One of the themes that is explored is that photography is, by its very nature, disassociative from its subject. She argues, quite compellingly, that in the quest for the image one removes oneself from the activity(ies) that are the subject of the photograph and rather than being a participant, one becomes an observer and commentator both.
A little while back I was listening to Radio 4′s excellent the Write Stuff (or was it … never mind, I can’ remember) where an author was talking about writing. One of the most interesting points he made was that once you had made the conscious decision to become a writer, everything you experienced from that point was viewed as potential material for writing. The world, instead of being a place in which you exist, becomes a place of material.
Writing and photography (and any art, arguably) requires a level of disassociation from the environment around the artist. Everything is observed, viewed, noted, photographed, remembered, weighed, considered and stored. The act of involvement becomes one of consideration, the act of remembrance becomes one of creativity. As writers and photographers we take what we have experienced and known, draw upon it, link it with experimentation and fantasy, and from this create something new (if not to the world then at least to ourselves).
Ten years ago I took up photography and now, invariably and subconsciously, I view the world through the eyes of a photographer. Since I have restarted writing, after a long absence, I have also begun to view it as such. The world has morphed from being an experience to being a potent source of inspiration and creativity.
The act of taking a photograph disassociates you from the scene. Consciously you begin to interpret the activity, forming and forcing it to fit the constraints of your creativity. The camera pressed against your eye defines your view on the world and, by its nature, removes you from it. You remove yourself from it by the act.
Writing is a solitary function, requiring a level of solitude, both physically and mentally, to allow that process to take place. Writing forces your eye downwards, obscuring the world with your preoccupation. More than that, when you are out and about, you will no doubt find yourself cataloguing conversations and situations, wondering how you will best use them when you come once again to keyboard or pen. Both are forms of disassociative observation, one more immediate than the other.
Do we lose something in this? Perhaps we lose that spontaneity of experience, without ulterior motive. Perhaps we become to considered, too intellectual, too bound by our art. This is the nature of humanity and specialisation, that we consider the world in light of our endeavours.
We, publicly or privately, practise our art, removed and yet part of the collective whole. We become more aware, and by that awareness become less involved; we become more observational, more judgmental and more critical. The world around is is weighed, and that which is worthy is photographed or written about. That which isn’t… isn’t.
Yet there is a prize for this disassociation. Like the shaman we place ourselves at a crossroads, we take on the burden of being the medium between worlds and interpret them accordingly. Becoming a writer or photographer, like any artistic endeavour, is a choice that we alone can make. It defines us and our world, just as we define ourselves and the world with it.
Cross-published at www.fabergemonkey.com
For a long time I was addicted to using a 50mm lens on my camera. I loved that lens. For its speed, its shallow depth of field and for the discipline and creativity it enforced in me.
Lately I have been almost exclusively using my 10-20mm zoom (working out at 16-32mm on my digital slr). However, in a bid to rediscover both my photographic verve and creativity I am going to a) carry my camera with me everywhere and b) only use a 35mm (which translates to just over 50mm).
The other thing is that I have neglected my photoblog for some time, so this weekend I will be looking to reinvigorate that.
I have been taking photos for years now, a mix of landscapes, weddings, abstracts, portraits and street photography. I particularly love the latter, but find it very hard to do. I guess it is comes down to the fact that I a) don’t shoot enough and b) find it hard to relax into the photographic mode when out and about on the street.
One of the websites I have admired for a long time is the [daily dose of imagery], the photoblog of Sam Javanrouh, a professional photographer who clearly lives, breathes and dreams photography. He is extremely good at street photography and I have a particular soft spot for his candids.
In this post he touches upon the philosophy of street photography and candids/portraits, illustrating how and why and the etiquette around it. I do like the way he goes about this, ensuring he respects the rights of his subjects, and I particularly love his sense of imagery and occasion, extending the mundane with an often subtle compositional flair. Reading this has reinvigorated my ambition to take good street photography and candids and I shall be out and about more often now.
I shall leave you with one of mine, a portrait of Benba, a young Nepali boy from the Langtang region, who happened to be a photogenic goldmine.
This a new website focussing on three of my great passions; writing, reading and photography.
I have no idea where it will take me (or you) but I hope we both enjoy the journey and learn something from it, and, more importantly, from each other.