On Being a Photographer - Part Three

Back from a trip to Patagonia, a friend said to me: “When I got home and I looked at the pictures I took, I realized that I had not seen much of the real McCoy.” (He meant Patagonia, of course.)

I looked at him quite flabbergasted at his remark. For a few seconds, I did think he was joking. He was not.

“I was so busy taking pictures that I guess I forgot to look around very much.”

There we go. Not looking around but storing up pictures for long winter evenings.

“Hard for me to understand,” I said. “Because I only take pictures when I am truly looking at things if and when I can relate to them. Whether they are landscapes or people.”

He looked rather taken aback.

“Well, you see, the picture I am about to take is already fully created in my mind when I release the shutter otherwise I would not take it.”

He made clear he was quite concerned. What was I talking about? Don’t I ever click away madly while visiting a new place, so worried to miss a very important piece of the booty, so to say.

“Well, I don’t. Even when I am taking shot after shot of my son’s wakeboarding feats because even then I tend to anticipate his motions.” (Which by the way does not mean that all the pictures are successful but that I have watched all his moves.)

I knew what he was talking about because ever since the advent of digital photography, I have watched tourists and friends and their new way of mass-producing memories.

I remember the very first time I noticed people walking around Paris, barely glancing at the monuments only to click away at them. Some of them kept walking without even stopping one second to make sure the picture wouldn’t be blurry. And I have seen enough fuzzy pictures on Facebook and so many blogs (even travel blogs) to know that actually the world around me is changing drastically.

 Well, actually I don’t care this much whether or not my friend will take time to look around and take the picture that will become his memory to cherish. Maybe it's fun to discover one whole country while sitting in front of one’s computer... after all.

I don’t care about blurry pictures either. As long as people are happy with them. (Which I doubt though but I am bitchy there, I know.)

Now people take loads of pictures which they unload (upload) on their computers through wi-fi or whatever. And obviously there is no need whatsoever to do some sorting out... the main idea being that they have been there and here is the proof including having fun which is just fine of course... But isn’t it possible to have fun and yet take good and enduring pictures? Besides the fact that nowadays with digital cameras, it is so easy to check the results on the spot and to take some more original and innovative pictures... at once.

So I feel a little bit dumbfounded sometimes... not getting suddenly old and lost... but dumbfounded because I still believe there is joy in loving to see something well done... and that abundance won’t necessarily be useful unless it is some vital part of our new leisure and consumer society. Not vital at all for me. Maybe my problem in a very fast ever changing culture which should not shower mediocrity with praise though.  There, I said it.

Last week, I went boating with one of Swee’Pea’s friends who fell in love with photography a few years ago. He’s good at it. He really is. But it is not his bread and butter. He loves to take pictures, that’s all.

I enjoy watching him, which happens a lot. Because when he is around I don’t feel like a brontosaurus anymore. (He is my son’s age.)

He has the same (my) way of looking around, of exploring the moment and opportunities and of taking a picture, slowly, carefully and purposefully. Which does not mean that it will be perfect but that he will be very happy with it. And it also means that if it is not perfect (the way he would have liked it to be -- his idea of perfection), he will learn from his mistake. This can be a lot of fun too, you know.

By the way, I am not the embodiment of perfection. Far from it. But I try to learn from my mistakes. All-the-time! (Only talking about photography!)

But from the day I started to take pictures (quite early in life), I tried to take pictures that would be worth looking at for ages... and this started happening a long time before becoming a professional photographer.

Let me tell you a story to make my point.

There was a time when digital photography did not exist. No kidding. A time when once the film was exposed, you had to get it processed of course which could take a long time sometimes.

A few months after my brother died, I started to consult a shrink. One day he had a brilliant idea to get me out of my house in Brittany where I was quite consumed with grief and rather unable to move forward.

I was to grab a camera and start walking on the beach below my house. I did not have to take pictures which sounded just fine because I was not in the mood to do so. Besides the fact that at the time I was still working as a translator.

And this is how I started to work on a project that still fascinates me: catching fleeting emotions through materiality thus understanding more or less the transient nature of life.

So there I am, in Brittany. Walking on the beach usually with husband, kids and friends around. On the look-out for the “IT” to happen... which after a while did not stop me from taking pictures of kids and friends and boating outings and... and... Quite enjoyable too.

One late cloudy afternoon, kids and husband wanted to go take a walk among boats moored on the beach. The sea was ebbing. There was enough water left for moorings and hulls to be mirrored on the golden sands. The reflections were quite weak though because of the clouds.

Because I was always waiting for those fleeting miracles, I was ready. My eye was my camera and my camera was my eye. I was totally ready. All set. (At the time I was working with a completely manual camera.)

I am “looking” at some mooring, its chain and its shadow. And the miracle happens. A ray of sunlight cuts straight through the clouds. My “eye” is all set and my fingertip presses on the shutter release. In a split second. And the sunbeam vanishes. One picture and only one.

Those were times when I sometimes had to wait for several weeks before getting my films developed. I remember how hard it was at the time, waiting without knowing for sure whether my fingertip had been quick and steady enough to capture this transient instant in the right framing.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Pure happiness. Definitely.

And I keep on walking with wide open eyes. Looking at life attentively.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


Nancy said...

I enjoyed reading your post, though I'm sure I'm guilty of many sins of photography (but I don't really consider myself a photographer, so I suppose that's alright). I do enjoy being behind the lens though and every now and again when I do catch a magical picture it is a beautiful feeling.

I mostly agree with you about not praising mediocrity though I do think that for any skill there is always room for improvement and, especially at the beginning, room for a lot of terrible stuff. For example, though I really don't consider myself a photographer, I think that my pictures are (in general) a lot better now than they were when I first started taking pictures (before I knew about the rule of thirds or aperture or anything like that—I really was more clueless about photography than I am now, if that's even believable).

We're finally getting around to turning our blog into a book (for family history purposes) and I'm throwing out pictures left and right that I used to think were good...but when I see them now I think they're not.

Either I didn't catch the beauty I thought I did originally or so many of the pictures are of exactly the same thing and I can't think of why I kept so many when I could have kept just the best and discarded the rest (we do try to weed through our pictures as we upload them). I'm sure that in ten years when I get around to turning this year's blog into a book I'll think the same thing. :)

Anyway, I'm really enjoying this series. And I always enjoy your pictures! Thank you for sharing!

Myrna said...

I really liked your shrink's advice to go outside. In spite of pain and sorrow in the world, what a wonderful thing to see the beauty that is also there. I do not think that I will ever decide to gain the patience to be a good photographer, but there are times when I am SO GLAD that I am outside at a particular moment to see something wonderful -- a rainbow, the sun behind a cloud, a part of the sunseet or sunrise -- that is only there for a moment and then vanishes.