Timing is Everything….

This being a blog generally about my photography, and my photography being done entirely outside of a studio setting, resuming posting here a year or so ago was especially ill-timed, even for me. Regardless, while I have not been posting here for a bit, I have been thinking about photography, and even managed to take a few photos during the current unpleasantness.

Being limited to places that are nearby and familiar forces some degree of rethinking if one wants to avoid taking the same photos over and over again. I am not especially interested in taking photos inside my home – I see it all the time – so that’s out. I’m sure there are ways to make such photos interesting and different, but mostly I don’t care. Every once in a while something catches my eye, like when the morning light comes in a just the right angle for a couple days to highlight something, but usually it’s just too boring to be enough to motivate me to pick up a camera. The same goes for my yard. It’s arguably somewhat photogenic, with nice trees and good morning light, but I see it every…single…day. No thanks.

So we have to enlarge the circle. There are a number of places I like to hike around here, and I’ve expended a fair bit of film on them over the years, and that’s the problem. How many different ways are there to shoot the same views, the same buildings, the same features? Not enough, at least for someone of fairly limited imagination like me. I can go further afield, but limited daylight, other commitments (stupid work…), and general laziness (or is it apathy? I find it hard to care…) all conspire to make such excursions infrequent at best. And even so, it’s trees and rocks, hills and streams. Blah blah blah….

One of my usual motivations for photography is travel, but that’s been off the table for obvious reasons. Without the promise of new places to see, and to provide useful contrast to the places I see every day, it’s been difficult to see the daily views as anything other than an utterly nebulous background, like something you might see in a Sears Portrait Studio circa 1983. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say, and the last year would seem to bear that out, albeit negatively.

Street photography is another dynamic source of potentially interesting photos, but the thought of willingly plunging into a mass of potential Typhoid Marys is deeply distasteful to say the least. It should be pointed out, I suppose, that I’m also not especially interested in directly documenting the way society is reacting to this transient upheaval. Plenty of other people are happily taking pictures of people in masks, or protesting loudly about how right they are and how wrong everyone else is. I’m bored just writing about it.

So what’s it all about then? Well, if we consider photography – and art generally – to be a personal thing, then for me it’s about confinement, limitation, and boredom. Seemingly minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, I know, but that’s what the last year or so has looked like to me. And in my world, the greatest failing, the greatest weakness, the greatest sin, is boredom, both inflicting it upon others and suffering from it myself. How exactly does one photograph that?

Well, it turns out, I don’t. Much, at least. Sure, I took a few photos here and there, but there’s no real creativity, no real meaning. Perhaps an occasional photo managed to capture something more than an utterly prosaic image, but it feels accidental rather than deliberate. So rather than bore others – again, a Very Bad Thing in my weltanshauung – I just didn’t put anything out there. I worked sporadically on some past photos, reediting and rethinking, perhaps assigning new values to old pictures – a very personal thing to be sure, and not one to be imposed on other viewers – but the idea of producing new creative work has been the very opposite of my experience in the last year or so.

So there you have it. The absence of photos posted here is my artist’s response to the last year. What seems like nothing is actually a meaningful artistic expression of a sort of dull, slightly angsty, void. Now if I can just find a way to sell it….

15 thoughts on “Timing is Everything….

  1. Pretty much my feelings as well. I have only taken a handful of pictures in the last year, mostly to test equipment, or document things for other people. I lost my day job that involved taking photos, so the digital equipment has been mostly resting.

  2. I took *more* photos than ever in 2020 — but with a far lower percentage of them being any good. I was using the act of photography as therapy, and was choosing subjects indiscriminately.

    1. Sounds like the flipside (I was going to say negative image, but that’s just too obvious) of what I did. Have you made any sense out of what you shot – found any sense of coherence of the photos as a group?

      1. I shot probably 100 photos of the neighborhood I live in and along the way started to see a project in them, so that was a positive. But most of what I photographed was just available stuff and it wasn’t very interesting.

  3. I too have struggled to find much inspiration; I neglected to call it out as a deliberate expression of my art 🙂

  4. I’ve been at this for damn near fifty years. I’ve worked a staff photographer for newspapers and wire services. I was a director of photography for a couple of newspapers. I had the White house beat when I worked for UPI. I’ve edited some famous and some unknown photographers. I designed, edited and made books for Eastman-Kodak when they mattered. I’ve even photographed a little for National Geographic.

    I tell you this, not to impress you — hell, it doesn’t impress me — but to give you the idea that I have some knowledge.

    If you were my staffer, I’d tell you a couple of things. Don’t self edit even before you get in the field. It’s bad enough when you self edit while you are working.

    I’d tell you what Elliot Erwitt once said. “I take pictures off things just to see what they look like photographed.”

    I’d tell you to photograph your world, even if you do it repeatedly. If you do that you’ll see the different changes in the trees on your property. You’ll learn patience. You’ll learn to see rather than just look. Sheesh, I’ve been photographing the same damn trees around here for years. They never fail to surprise me.

    I’d also tell you not to take the picture but let the picture take you. And, most of all, I’d tell you to just keep shooting even if it’s just for you. I experiment a lot — that’s what Storyteller is about — but that doesn’t mean I have to show it to anybody.

    I live in New Orleans. Yesterday was Mardi Gras. It was the saddest, coldest, wettest thing I ever photographed. The French Quarter was mostly closed. There are no parades. The bars were closed, even the little neighborhood dives. Most restaurants were closed too. I made one picture. Bourbon Street was depressing. Nobody there. many of the club’s lights turned off. I went around dusk, although you couldn’t tell because of the clouds. The street was blocked and a cop was standing there waiting to shoo people away or give them a very expensive ticket. I asked him if I could walk down the street about 50 yards. I was wearing two cameras and after so many years I have developed the photographer’s strut. He said fine and come back to me. I worked for about 15 minutes. When I returned I let him look at the LCD and gave him my business card. He was happy. I was happy. For me, that was the telling picture… of Mardi Gras and of the past year.

    Keep going out and making pictures. Any pictures. If you shoot digital and have paid for all the gear, it’s free.

    Sell nothing. That’s tough. Sell pictures, just remember distribution is king.

    1. I appreciate the thoughts. I’m not sure I’d describe my recent experience as “self-editing”, but then I’m not and have not been a working photographer, so I have perhaps a different set of assumptions that I’m starting from. I have taken some photos over the last year, just far fewer than I otherwise might have. I’ll post a few here soon.

      1. The minute you start saying I’m not going to photograph is because, you are self editing. Take the picture. Give it a chance. If it doesn’t work thne it doesn’t work.

        1. Yes, I understand what you’re getting at, but there are two aspects of what I’m talking about here that I think fall outside even the broad definition you’re use. First, much of the lack of output over the last year has not been due to picking up a camera, going out to photograph, and then failing to do so; it’s simply not picking up the camera because I had no desire to. Second, photographing only for my own entertainment means that I have no compelling external motive to do so, so it all comes down to what keeps me engaged. (A third, but far less critical, point is that working almost exclusively with film, just banging away gets expensive.)

          I have plenty of crappy photos to attest to the fact that I’m not an overly-critical self-editor when photographing, I assure you.

          1. I missed this reply, sorry. First, I was born in Brooklyn. We actually have a home there. The heat and humidity doesn’t come close to this swamp.

            That said, I did have time to look at your website. You might enjoy reading Andy Adams or Andy Flak which is how some of his websites are labelled.

            He’s more of a photo book collector, but understands the nature of collecting anything as opposed to me who only collects music and pictures. Me gear is so stopped down that I usually have only what I need. Yes. I still shoot some film mostly with a Leicas. M6 and M7. The later was a gift.

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