This article was written for Fujilove Magazine, and originally published in April 2018. I had a regular column for the magazine for a year between 2018 and 2019, and am reproducing these articles here for posterity. All Fujilove archive posts
I’ve previously written about refreshing perspective by using my kit differently, to shooting different subjects. The latter came, literally, with the territory. Living out by crop fields and farm buildings in rural Denmark for the past couple of months, opportunities for street shooting have been few and rather far between.
And though it’s not at all evident on my social feeds right now, street shooting is what I do.
So today, I’m writing about staying true to course.
Making landscape pictures over the past couple of months has been a great catharsis – for negotiating turmoil, exploring expression to life’s rollercoaster from another angle – as well as a break from the frenetic mode of shooting in the city. At the time of this writing, I’ve spent two solid months shooting un-peopled, wide open spaces in various weather conditions. For a city slicker, it’s a rare joy to have this much air around the body, with no extraneous humans.
I’ve become quite attached to the pace of shooting the land, natural or cultivated, and the drawing out of minutes to hours in the long evenings of a northern spring. Taking one shot, maybe two, or none at all.
I miss the unexpected coming together of architecture and person and shadow. I miss the situations of the streets, and the energy, if not the crush of human throngs (though Scandinavian cities are blissfully spacious compared to the Southeast Asian one I come from). I miss the reflections in public transport, the thing that started and still nourishes my days with a camera.
I miss the streets.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Danish countryside in the last few years. Among other things, it has taught me how to look (and then look again) at what is initially a nondescript swathe of soil packed with green stalks, to find something that shifts my attention, that tells me how I am responding to life.
I pay more attention to the shape of things and little nuances of light fall on various surfaces. To the edges of each frame.
Some of this is simply what we are calling mindfulness: to stop anticipating, pushing at things that haven’t happened, and see what’s there now. Some of it is also letting go of what I am “supposed” to be shooting.
I’m a big fan of the type of street photography that is about elemental playoff – you know the pictures I mean: where people and things come together in a scene that that makes you go “Whaaaa…?” The kind of work that the Graciela Magnonis and Jesse Marlows of the world do. It’s possible that I’m crazy for photos like those precisely because they are unattainable. I don’t react to external stimuli if it doesn’t resonate with my frame of mind. The gift of a scene like this would have passed me by completely. Fundamentally, that is not the world I see.
But the world’s gifts to each of us are as different as we are. I’ll never be another Trent Parke, however much I want to (which is a real shame). Every period of desperate refresh reinforces this truth. I cannot change that which drives me to pick up a camera, as what we truly seek is as personal as a fingerprint.
So the best thing I can do is work on making the best pictures I can make.
This often takes place in a process that involves, firstly, a long lull in shooting. This is the point where I’m sick of my pictures because they all look the same: unbelievably crap. All of it. “Throw the damn camera away because what’s the point” kind of crap. You know it, I’m sure.
At some point, weeks into said lull, when I feel slightly less embarrassed calling myself a photographer, I hunt for a path. This is the devour-photobooks-in-library stage. Looking at others’ work, and figuring out why they resonate.
I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve been looking at a lot of landscapes lately: Kirsten Klein, Michael Kenna, and Sally Mann. Over and over. The similarity of environments is a starting point, but the real draw is how these artists evoke grief and loss in a bed of stillness.
Shoot. Shoot more.
Edit with focus, both in the post-processing and reviewing sense. As my focus on creating images with a particular kind of mood/energy gets stronger, I find my attachment to color waning. The EVF in my camera has been permanently set to black and white for years, to fend off colour distraction while shooting, but only recently have I been deliberately making black and white images. This work is stronger than anything I’ve done before.
I’m as guilty of not printing my work as the next person. But printing your work on fine art paper, pharmacy prints, or heck, copy paper, is when it becomes real. Even if “real” simply means “understanding that you have no idea what you’re doing.” Only when I see my work in print, do I really know where I am and where I want to be. And it often also reveals what is driving me on this journey.
And that, painful as it often is, is the real gift.