To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer
― Ansel Adams
This post is about my passion for photography.
It is also about the process of learning. In a recent post in this (rather sporadic) series, I featured a photo which I believe was the first that I ever shot. It was of a hovercraft, a futuristic vehicle that like others, including the Concorde, has disappeared into the history books.
That camera was a Kodak Instamatic 25. It was (almost) idiot proof (if not Andy proof). A cassette was inserted in the rear of the camera, a single click captured (most of) what could be seen through the offset viewfinder, the cassette was wound on by a large black plastic wheel and that was it. The cassette was then dropped off at the developers and then the waiting began.
For some time after that, I experimented in a vague and rather random way with a long lost Voigtländer rangefinder camera, previously the proud possession of my father. I regret that this treasure has long since vanished into the mists of time, family separations, bereavements and boxed up memories. Which is a pity, because, when I was experimenting with it, I had not the first idea what I was doing nor how to master the intricacies of f stops, shutter speeds or anything else. I wish I had asked my father to explain it all to me. He had been a photographer who developed his own shots in the bathroom before, well, before. Anyway, by the time that I had rediscovered how to learn again, he was gone. Long gone.
This is a rambling piece. I don’t even apologise for that, it’s almost an exercise in free writing, although the photo at the top of the page, which was deliberate, does have a point. A point I will eventually reach.
One point I am trying to convey is that I have rediscovered the joy of learning.
I recall, feeling, on leaving university that the process of learning had come to an end. That the joyous process of discovering new facts, new experiences, new concepts had come to an end. It felt like a door had slammed in my face. With a resounding bang. I’ve written about this before. I was, of course, wrong. Very.
My father’s Voigtländer was a precision instrument. He also had a bellows camera which suffered the same fate described above. The Voigtländer, as far as I can remember was an entirely manual affair, I tried to learn how to use it but the process never gelled in my mind. I did capture some half decent shots, including this shot of Worcester Cathedral (taken in 1980), but life soon intervened.
My second camera was a (black) Olympus OM10. It was a gift from my mother on my 21st birthday. It was my pride and joy, a good friend of mine at the time received a Nikon EM of which I was secretly rather envious. Decades later, I made the switch to Nikon, perhaps in part due to those feelings way back in the day. I still have that OM10 and with it I began to learn. It worked primarily in aperture priority mode, although it was (is) possible to attach a fiddly accessory to the front to provide control of shutter speeds and so allow a fully manual mode. The most annoying thing about the camera was (and is to this day) that the film take up spool is very difficult to engage, and often the reel does not engage at all which can be very disappointing after a shoot.
However, even now I love to load a film (very carefully) and experience again the thrill of taking only 36 shots and trying to make every one count. You can see some of the shots I took in Belgrade and Brussels using this camera. I like them. I love the impact of a grainy mono film. You can imitate it in Lightroom but for me, it’s still not quite the same.
I wonder if that makes for a better photographer, when you have to think and plan each shoot. I think maybe it does, in a recent (digital) shoot I fired off almost 1,000 shots and spent a lot of time isolating 50 images which I was particularly happy with. Was that a good use of my time, would I have been better off taking more time to compose each shot?
My first shots with my first film based Nikon (an F65 soon followed by the wonderful F80) were captured on the streets of New York only weeks after 9/11. The ruins were still smoking.
Even to this day, I think that some of the shots I took with the F80 are among my best. I held off making the switch to digital (those who know a little about my career over the last 15 years may find that statement moderately amusing) for a while and to my regret when I did I traded in my F65 and F80 bodies for my first Nikon digital, the F70. All I can say is the F80 was a much better camera, or at least I made better images with it. So, a life lesson here is when you have something that works for you, don’t let it go. And that does not apply only to photographic equipment.
In 2011, when I hit a certain age, my Nikon D700 found its way into my camera bag. That was also about the time my passion for photography really did kick off with my success with belgradestreets, followed by belgianstreets as well as this website and my most recent venture, salamancastreets which has still to settle down and find its niche.
Along the way, I have read countless magazines and books, pored over reviews and articles, all in a quest to learn more.
Only this week, I finished reading a text book in only a couple of days. Even as a university student with an examination deadline that would have presented me with a serious challenge. The book was Light: Science and Magic and it was a revelation. It explains in simple terms how the properties of light affect what we do as photographers and how we can make that light work for us, I learned something on every page. It is not a truism that the more we learn, the more we realise how little we know, it is a simple fact.
My tastes in photography magazines have shifted. Once I was obsessed by the hardware, the technology. Now, my taste is more for the art, the vision, the inspiration. Whenever I travel to London I try to pick up a copy of the British Journal of Photography or (and sometimes and) Professional Photography. My current favourite is Exit magazine, it is a sumptuous publication right down to the feel and smell of the paper.
All of this has driven me back to basics. Yesterday, I sat down with my D700 and its manual and I deactivated virtually all the auto settings and flicked the main control to manual. I want to get back that feeling where every shot counts, every shot is a conscious decision.
So, when I thought I had stopped to learn, I was so wrong. I have much to learn.
And a new ambition, or at least a revitalised one. That of becoming a professional photographer.
Which of course means I am busy building a new website. And if you have been patient enough to read all the way to this point, watch this space.