the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


Night Nymph, 2020. f/1.6, 1/20 sec., ISO 250, 56MM


IT IS SAID THAT THE SOUL ALWAYS RECALLS, AND LONGS FOR , ITS ORIGIN. We begin as something, become something else, and forever ache at the memory of our beginnings. So it is with religion. So too with philosophy. And hometowns. And first loves.

And photography.

I can still remember the pure and uncomplicated thrill of my first attempts to take a picture. I understood so little of how the simple box in my hands worked  that the only control I exercised over the process was one of intention. I tried to will good pictures into the camera. Armed with such a simple device, there was nothing for me to calculate or calibrate, even if I had known what those terms even meant. All I had was the things in front of me, and the desire to capture them, to own a small piece of them forever. The act was a simple one because both I and the camera were so utterly simple. The terms of photography were direct, clear. The results were, to be kind, all over the place. But even those failures were magical, in a way.  Magic is always more powerful when you don’t quite understand how the trick works. Or if it even will.

I still look for that level of, let’s call it directness. Like anyone trying to master a craft at multiple levels, I have gone far into the arcana and minutia of making pictures over the years, but my favorite pictures are still the ones in which I feel the most and think the least, the ones with simple, even raw tools, and nearly nothing between me and the picture except intention. In the above image, I’m using a lens with one focal length, shot wide open at f/1.6 to allow me to get a soft, handheld image at night with a very glowy sheen and minimal ISO boost. It’s not even close to technically precise work, and yet I love the result, because, at this moment, it’s the kind of picture-making I need to reset my enthusiasm, to re-connect with what used to be native to me. As Bogart said, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Picasso famously remarked that it took his entire adult life to learn how to paint the way a child does. If the Romans had had cameras, they might have said that pictures made in such a fashion were done ad sua essentia…”to their essence”. What that boils down to, for me, is that, every once in a while, I miss that wide-eyed twelve year old that first picked up an Imperial Mark XII camera and tried to will pictures into it. I miss him, and I have to go looking for him.

He has something I want.


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