I realize that end-of-year reviews are all the rage this time of year, and many are quite lame. An excuse to write without actually creating anything new–a godsend to those paid by the entry. However, I figured it was a good thing for me to do in an attempt to really think about my work for the year. Where has it taken me? What have I learned? I have been going through all of my photos over the past few days in preparation for submission to some international contests, and I have realized that this year has been especially productive for me. Photographically, this may have been the best year so far of my relatively short artistic career.
*Since this turned into a relatively long post, I decided to split it into two separate posts. The first half of the year (roughly) will be covered in this post, with the second half of the year to be covered in another post to come.*
I figured I’d recap the year with some highlights of 2012. It was a big year for me photographically, having finished two longer-term projects I was working on, as well as a rash of new equipment; I also had the chance to travel a bit. In complete dissociation with the recent direction of this blog, this two-part review is–perhaps out of necessity–very heavily geared toward imagery. I will accompany the images with words, but it is the images that mark the journey of this year most emphatically.
I started the year in England. More specifically, I rang in the new year in Norwich, as part of my annual trip to the UK with my father. Here is a set of images from that trip, which included London, Norwich, and Wigan. This trip is, to a large degree, where I trace the start of my reinvigoration with photography.
I had drifted away in 2010 and 2011…unsure of what I was doing, lacking clear direction or focus in my work, I started to lose my way. This trip helped fix that, along with a new piece of equipment: the Fuji X100. I found the fun in photography again, and realized that the process is as important (and even more so in some cases) than the final image. Photography actually isn’t all about the image sometimes.
But I noticed that with a small, quiet, and discrete camera, I was able to shoot in a way I never had before. In fact, the strengths and limitations of the X100 pushed me into a new direction; coincidentally, it was the direction in which my interests had already been luring me. It might be a bit hyperbolic to say it was a match made in heaven–but I think it was.
As I said above, the images I returned home from England with in January of 2012 were quite good. A new direction had grabbed hold of me and I was happy that it was so. Looking back through the images again now, it was clear what that direction was, and although it was a bit hit and miss–isn’t all photography?–the hits convinced me that it was a thread worth chasing, and down the rabbit hole we went, in more ways than one.
An exciting year lay ahead.
I spent the first half of the year living in Fargo, North Dakota, and it was that post that started gaining this blog some exposure when it was featured as “Freshly Pressed” on the WordPress.com homepage in January. Barely a month old, my blog exploded with visitors and comments and followers, which has continued ever since. I began carrying my camera with me every day again, which is something I had gotten away from the previous year or two. Photography began to be a daily event again for me, and I noticed tremendous growth in my work throughout the year.
People had become my primary interest, photographically. Problematically for me, I find approaching–nay, not even approaching, but simply photographing–strangers difficult. That is my personality, and one reason I find I am well suited to the side of the lens I generally find myself on. When I’m shooting in the United States, I find this is the case more than abroad. Space is a very different beast over here, and the virtually limitless space is one of the fundamental principles of the American experience; in photographic terms, this means that it is more difficult to make photographs in public without being noticed. I’m sure that in large, busy cities like New York it may be different, but in the Midwest if you come too close to someone you are instantly on their radar, and it is virtually impossible to make an image without attracting attention. This doesn’t help what I’m trying to do with my images.
In the vast expanses of North Dakota, this rule was taken to extremes. New, creative ways of making photographs in the street were forced out of me.
Although some of my images from North Dakota work, many of them do not. Of course, many folks can make fine images there; one just needs to adapt one’s approach and vision to suit what there is to make images of in the space provided. But at this time in my image-making, it was something else I was after.
North Dakota was also the beginning of a new pursuit for me, as I began to get back into film. In 2008-09, I photographed almost exclusively with film, but had gotten away from it thereafter as my artistic vision became hazy, and the convenience of digital won me over. The almighty DSLR was my chief image-capturer (some might even call it a camera, though it feels more like a computer than a camera; it’s more laptop than Leica, I’ve said before) and I all but abandoned film. However, I picked up a used film rangefinder on Craigslist on a whim, and the madness started.
I know I mentioned the rabbit-hole earlier, and the analogy with Carrol’s world is appropriate, since I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was not prepared for the gear-binge I was about to embark on.
I will cover that after I cover the other major trip of the year: Portugal.
Next up was a vacation with my wonderful wife in Portugal. For two weeks we discovered a country which entranced us both–and we can’t wait to return–from Porto to Lisbon, with Sintra in between. We already planning our return at some point in 2013. There are many highlights. Using a mixture of film and digital photography, I took a great many images while in Portugal, and made a book of a selection of black and white images.
First, a new awareness of light is something I can see about those images now. I think all of these pieces can be traced to using slower cameras: both film rangefinders and the Fuji X100 can be slow in operation–at least, more so than the digital whiz-bang gizmos masquerading as cameras just about everywhere–and forced me to do more work before releasing the shutter than I had previously been forced to do. I have always been what I’d call a reactive photographer; I can struggle at times to create a scene, which is why I often have difficulty posing people for photographs. I don’t envision a scene well, but I give myself credit for seeing a scene. Frequently, I raise the camera to my eye and make an image and I don’t always know why–something compels me to do so. In that sense, I’m less a cerebral photographer and rely more on feeling.
Visually, I found Portugal very interesting. More than that, a personal style began to emerge, totally unforced. When I returned home and went through the images I made I found that many of the images dealt with loneliness and isolation; often solitary figures in the heart of urban centers did not represent the whole of my experience in Portugal, but it’s what my lens was drawn to. A more comprehensive approach to constructing and composing my images took shape as well, as the final shot above (in particular) attests.
Back to The Future: Film Revisited
As I mentioned above, 2012 saw me revisit analog photography. Shooting with film was something I did in 2008 and 2009 in particular, after taking a film photography course as my final undergraduate course. But the convenience of digital won me over, and film slowly ebbed away until I was shooting all digital: 2012 saw that change.
Reinvigorated by film, I began to try more film cameras. The Fuji X100 steered me in the direction of rangefinder cameras, as I found that style of shooting came naturally. I also found it more enjoyable. From the Minolta CL I moved to the Leica M3; to the M3 I added an M6, then sold the M3 and purchased a Zeiss Ikon; that Ikon outlived my M6 and was soon joined by an MP, which then was my only rangefinder until I added an M6TTL, and sold the MP because I found the viewfinder wasn’t the right one for me. In concert with this madness came a fair number of lenses I also tried.
The other new (to me) piece of equipment I added was a Hasselblad 501CM. Medium format photography is a joy and I had gotten away from it lately. I’m glad I rediscovered the 6×6 negative.
Thanks for reading, and viewing, the first part of the 2012 review. I will be rounding out the year’s events and images in the second half of this post to come in the next few days.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!