stretch it out some

A reminder/exhortation to myself first:

Somehow I just can’t help but think that life is a lot more varied than what is typically the subject matter for so much of Fine Art [and my] photography. And I can’t help but think it’s a real shame if that is the case simply because we’re [I’m] such a shy lot.

Brooks Jensen, LensWork Podcast #962 (officially behind a paywall; available here)

What do I choose to photograph, and why? Do I tend to choose safe things? Well-trodden photographic turf? Photographs that look much like other people’s photographs?

I choose things to photograph because something grabbed my attention, usually some flashing lights or pretty colors, and I’m easily frightened by the presence of strangers, even when they’re far away or in cars speeding by. Trees, flowers, sunrises and sunsets, clouds, my darling, adorable wife, are all fairly usual and largely well-trodden turf, and it’s much harder to make a unique photo of a beautiful sunset than to make a beautiful photo of a unique sunset.

For about 4 months I tried to shoot a 6-shot project for that Seeing in Sixes thing, and I even tried to find 6 pictures in my ever-expanding archive, but ended up being unable to come up with anything I felt like sharing. I put together a series on blurred lines (a takeoff on my failed print giveaway). I had a series on the red bag. I had series on mini blinds, chain link, colorful foliage, and light leaks. But none of them seemed worth sending in, nothing said anything new or different or special or… and I was filled with doubt and loathing about all of it, so I let the time expire and didn’t submit anything, and this only served to increase the doubt and loathing.

I’m working on a project now of building exteriors, purposefully devoid of people and even leaving out things that might locate the structure in time, markers like cars and billboards and similar. I’m not going to share specifics of it here, but I’m planning on something like Rosalind Fox Solomon’s new book “Got to Go,” or Paul Kwiatkowski’s “and every day was overcast,” or maybe Nick Nostitz’s “Patpong: Bangkok’s Twilight Zone.” Maybe something like “A Million Little Pieces” (though maybe a bit more honest), something with pictures and memoir-ish text. If I had pictures of the times and places I want to describe, I’d use them, but I don’t and so I’ve largely committed to using contemporary pictures to illustrate historical events, and I think the project wouldn’t  work as well with signs of humanity in it.

But that’s a specific project… there are 3 cameras in the bag right now, the Ricoh 35ZF and Lomo LC-A with Ilford Delta 100 loaded in both, and the Fuji X70. I grabbed a quick shot of a some neighbors, from a distance, from the back, I think, and I know I shot a bunch of random stuff about shiny or pretty, while sometimes remembering that Black & White, so contrast, not color.

And in looking back through my catalog, through all the pictures I’ve taken or made since 2010 when I finally jumped on the smartphone wagon with the iPhone 4, through the fist years with the D7000 and the more recent film-centric years, while there are few abandoned places and fewer mannequins, there are very few pictures of people doing people-type things, working or walking or living or whatever it is that people do, and loads of pictures of architecture, plants and other inanimate things, a bunch of macro stuff, and mostly pictures of pretty or shiny, sometimes of both.

I’ve had some ideas to shoot this vibrant community of which I’m nominally a part, and in which I’m trying to become more active for the sake of Allah alone. With that, perhaps I’ll have opportunities to use the camera in ways that I historically haven’t.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I went and delivered some food to a nearby immigrant community with the X70 in my pocket. Did I share pictures of that? Nope… Here are a couple that I’m particularly happy with:

Why didn’t I share these (or others) before? Well, I haven’t mentioned the X70… I was waiting to put together a review, but didn’t have enough pictures worth sharing to do so. I’ve already taken more pictures with it in about 2 months than I did with the LX7 in 2 years if that gives you any indication, and while the files are great, the post work is negligible, and there’s something in the Fuji sauce, I’ve been feeling something akin to Mr. Jensen’s comments above.

Many pictures are better when there are people in them, even when there are little bits of people poking into the edges of the frame. I got a couple of decent reportage type shots while running around an apartment complex, banging on doors and offering the residents a bag of simple groceries (quart of vegetable oil, bag of sugar, couple of random cans, rice, some pasta, and maybe a bit of halal gelatin) and had I been out on previous outreach operations, I might’ve had a nice series to pass off to Seeing in Sixes.

Even better, I might have a couple more good deeds to add to my scales on the Day of Judgement, and given that I’m a human, prone to sin and in deep need of Allah’s guidance and mercy, I need all the extra credit I can get. Allah knows best, and if I want to actually do something with this hobby, I need to stretch out a bit more, challenge myself a bit more, and stop taking the easy way.

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