While like most photographers I’m always vaguely aware of it, from time to time I become quite conscious of just how widespread the problem of maintaining photographic inspiration really is. The profusion of cameras and proliferation of photography into everyday life have made even great subjects have lost their power to inspire. Someone even came up with a word for it: vemödalen (from the wonderfully named Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows).
And so, with that in mind and a new year beginning (well, maybe a little past beginning at this point), I am launching myself on something I am calling The Vemödalen Project (which sounds like a 1960s movie about Nazis in Argentina or something). The objective is simple: when I take photos of things that have been done to death, try to do so in a different way. This will obviously be an intermittent sort of thing, as I am not surrounded by such subjects on a daily basis, nor do I need yet another obsessive compulsion. But when I encounter such scenes, I will try to do something different with them. Sometimes this might involve different lenses or filters, but hopefully most of the time it will be more about vision than equipment.
In some ways I’ve already begun, not consciously, but in a way that I suspect is familiar to many; once you’ve taken multiple shots of something, especially something frequently photographed by others as well, you start trying to avoid repetition (or you just stop taking shots altogether, but with compelling subjects that’s harder, at least for me). It becomes an exercise in creativity, trying to figure out new ways to see the same old thing. Different lenses, new angles, various lighting conditions, even changing films and developing routines, can help, but in the end you’ll exhaust those possibilities too, meaning you’ll be forced to either give up or get more creative. And anything that encourages photographic creativity can’t be bad (assuming it doesn’t get you arrested).
I’ve been tempted from time to time to pursue the popular “one camera, one year” project, but I’m too fickle in my equipment selection to carry that off. Dirty Harry was right: A man’s got to know his limitations. Though it is seemingly quite restrictive, the objective of that arrangement is similar: promote creativity by imposing artificial limits. This project simply turns that on its head, albeit in a less rigorous way. “One camera, one year” seems like a torturous pilgrimage; this is more like a vacation to a familiar spot you’ve visited many times before.
I intend to document this effort here, though precisely what form that will take I’m not yet certain. Stay tuned.