Here's what the web has done for us (me). Allowed photographers to share their images, thoughts and words all over the world. We've spent the last five years talking about shooting until we're all blue in the face (and I thought that was just the result of a bad profile....). And for every hour we spend talking about how to perfect the images we may take in the future we've loped off one more hour that we could be making those images. Every hour spent in one direction is a lost opportunity in another direction.
Habit's a bad thing to fall into. I have a couple of friends who are photographers of a sort. I used to have coffee with them. All the time. There's always something you could talk about with a common interest like photography. It was always fun in the first go around. You got to share and they got to share and world seemed interesting. But then we fell into habit. We met even when there really wasn't anything to share.
With a couple of friends I felt a trend happening that's a running joke when it comes to doctors. You know, you run into a dermatologist at a cocktail party and show him that curious mole. He says, "Interesting. Why don't you call on Monday for an appointment?" And then he wanders off to find drinking companions that aren't looking for free medical advice. So, with me, having the curse of having written a few books about the craft and having practiced it as a business, the fun talk evaporates pretty quickly only to be routinely replaced by, "Which lens?" "Which setting?" and in the old days, "Which Film?" And there is no right answer. To them photography is different from work. And what I do is different from what they do.
And I get frustrated. Because all the talk is aimed at making the "how" more and more quantified without a care for the what and why. Technique has become the big idea. And when technique is the big idea there is no idea. I'll be happy to hear someone talk about what they want to actually shoot but I don't want to hear about an amazing new HDR discovery or the way they mapped their printer profiles or how they lit something. Believe me, after all these years all I have to do is look at the photo and I'll be reasonably certain how someone lit something. My photo friends might be interested in what PhotoShop can do but we don't need to talk about it. For me it's a tool like a hammer or a wrench. It's not a muse. It's not an inspiration. Look outward for that inspiration.
So many people use the idea of mastering all of the technical shit inherent in photography because it gives them an excuse not to mount up and ride off in search of the magic. Because the fear is that they won't know the magic when they see it, and, they're afraid that their magic won't resonate with their audience. And I can't help anyone with that. I shot for one audience: ME. And believe me, if I see a photograph of someone I've loved for over a quarter of a century, standing in the Louvre in a gray beret, all I see is the smiling eyes and all I take in is the happiness of the moment. And my audience feels it all in a very real way because I am the audience and the photograph was taken for me. To capture, in the amber of time, a vanishing moment that I wanted to preserve and look at again and again. Not something I need other people to admire.
And every time talk turns to HDR, gradients, techniques with multiple inverted layers and all the other quasi-techno goo that seems to make our actions and intentions more viscous, I'm trading that time for the opportunity to please my solitary audience with one more image. Tell me about your exciting idea to photograph models in Milan, or feral cows in Des Moines but don't bore me with details of the flight and how you plan to process the files.
The only way to gain magic is to give up control. And giving up control is hard. And fraught with uncertainty. And not everything will work out just right. But in the times that you let chance guide your hand instead of the tight brace of technical "mastery" you might occasionally stop thinking long enough to allow your spirit to create.
I shot the image above on ISO 64 film on a cloudy day in Paris way back in 1986. I know what camera and lens I used but it doesn't matter because the scene will never happen the same way again. Belinda and I were walking through a room at the Louvre that was filled, at the time, with sculpture. I'd just photographed an Italian man disregard the multi-lingual signage and lean over the rope to lecherously run his hand over the smooth, marble hip of a tasty nymph statue. I turned around to say something to Belinda and the light washed over her in a beautiful way. I saw her eyes sparkle. I doubt I noticed the out of focus shapes behind her but I've come to love them very much. I clicked one or two frames of precious film, looked into her beautiful hazel eyes one more time and we moved on to look at a different genre of art.
When I go back and look at frames like this I'm overwhelmed by the concentration of emotion I see in them. Lost to me are meaningless issues of sharpness or lens curvature. Lost to me are discussions about the seemingly random noise of the grain. All I see is Belinda as I saw her in that moment. That's why it's art to me.
If you have to explain, fix in PhotoShop, render in layers, etc. you've captured something much different and while I might like the taste of that dish I don't need to hear the exacting particulars of the recipe recited.