When you get sick of your office or studio, sick of the pressure and sick of thinking about things in general, it is time to grab your camera and become a tourist in your own town.
If you live in a place like Toronto, you are probably aware that the city is in constant flux; I like to take, at the very least, two afternoons a month just to walk around the downtown area with my camera and see what’s new. So, yesterday I wandered around, shooting everything I saw as if I was seeing it for the first time, until my feet started getting sore and my stomach started grumbling. But I really enjoyed it… And besides, my Leica always gives me some sort of license to photograph whatever I want, because I know that I would be a bit reticent, if not shy at all, about pointing a big honking camera at people’s faces. Range-finder photographers seem so touristy, so amateur-like that they almost scream: “Look at me, I’m a perennial student on a fine art hunt…” and nobody takes them seriously. Therefore, having a little camera is your license to peer into nooks and crannies, accost strangers, shoot silly angles and generally lurch around…
But what did a hike downtown Toronto buy me? I suppose it gave me an excuse not to think, a day of shooting without the pressure of having to turn out perfect work and license to really experiment with the tools and the toys. I know I got also some exercise, as I figured my route to be about five miles in all, plus a good excuse to go off my diet and splurge with a great burger. As I walked through, I saw dozens of high-rise and luxury condominiums. Some built and occupied some under construction and some breaking ground. No one of the projects was on hold. The streets were filled with people in suits or shirts and ties walking to meetings or early lunches. Not too many “sale” signs in the boutique windows. Most people seemed happy. Pretty content. None of the postulated “doom and gloom” scenario…
And then there was my little camera. I’ve long since given up caring what a meter says to me: I learned to set the right exposure at least 25 years ago! Three hours later I’d re-acquainted myself with humanity and I called it a day. Less fearful about the economy. Less paranoid about the localized representation of the human condition and happy with my photographs. The 3:2 format suits me well. The lens is great. The finder is good. I can be happy working again. I returned home with 3 exposed rolls of Delta 400 and an unchanged feeling of appreciation for what my camera can do.
Now, here’s the rant: We are on the cusp of print advertising capitulating to digital. In a few years, traditional magazines of any kind will be consigned to webmag status. As photographers we have to understand that the ability to summon tons of mega pixels will no longer be an effective barrier to entry our field. The now state of the art DSLR cameras will become albatrosses that require learning the intricacies of downsizing. No one will be looking for 50 megabyte tiff files anymore. They’ll be looking for good compression and fast loading. And more will be looking for files that move. As in video.
So what does that leave us with, as photographers? It leaves us with the realization that many have already accepted: We are content providers and it’s time to re-orient our understanding of what constitutes content. It will be either this or the choice between fine art film photography and conceptual photojournalism, on film as well…
As for me, I have already chosen: Understanding that digital gear will continue to be less important but connections and creative thinking will become primary, I went back to film and became a true minimalist: One camera and one lens, a changing bag, a developing tank and a scanner, together with a laptop for writing and image editing.
Film involves me more in the creative process of an image, due to the fact that a roll can only contain a limited number of frames. This eliminates the shooting frenzy of the digital medium, slowing me down and making me think carefully about what subject is worth to be THE subject… Moreover, the whole process of developing and scanning adds to the creation of the image, increasing gratification.
And for all of us who have just embraced (or never left) the old ways of making photographs there will be the task to dominate the digital competition. So we will produce better ideas. Instead of surviving as mere “picture takers” we will bring fresh concepts and visions to the table. We will be masters of lighting, at least as far as it serves our purposes in giving us an inimitable style. We will infuse our content with intellectual assets that are unique to our own experiences. We will use our dreams, our nightmares and our loftiest ideals as the fabric for our creations, making art so poignant that it will bring tears to the hardest heart and smiles to the hopeless.
And in our brave analog world the walls between writing and photographing will be liquid, pliable and permeable and we’ll master both.
We will go back to childhood and see new images through the eyes of a child. Our inner child. Our most basic and undiluted, creative self.
See what a walk around town will do to you?