I recently posted a short history of my return to film photography on Phogropathy. There are not a lot of users of this site, but nonetheless I was pleased to find the post highlighted in the weekly mailing list for Phogropathy.
It was just another of recent posts about my camera experiences that I have put up here and on Cowbird.
Why, I ask myself, am I doing this? What has changed in my use of photography that has led me to the consideration of the technical aspects of the craft rather than simply using the results for what they are? After all, I’ve been seriously photographing since 2005, with intermittent bursts of activity in the decades before, and yet I spent precious little time in the past considering photography as any form of art as opposed to a functional practice that most often acted as a record of my experiences and as a spur to stories I’ve told.
Obviously, the return to film played a strong role in this. Once film enters your photographic experience you find yourself connected to the rich history of the medium, a history that only very recently appended digital photography.
But it’s more than this. My sympathy for current modes of digital photography has been progressively reduced amid the clutter and glut of often technically competent but essentially soulless creations. When I began to read histories of photography, to look at works completed well before I was born, I saw in those images, many copied and copied again, something of what made the art exciting.
Take this image below, a still of Marlene Dietrich from the film “Shanghai Express” from 1932.
We’ve seen this pose and this type of butterfly lighting hundreds of times since Dietrich, yet none surpass the directness and allure of this pose and most end up as simply pallid recreations.
Is this repetition the main culprit? Coupled, that is, with a sense of unoriginality? The unoriginality really can’t be helped. Patterns of lighting, once worked out, lend themselves to use and reuse. But seeing the same type of image, over and over again, kills the freshness. It becomes, as Iggy Pop memorably sang, mass production.
I could extend the argument to all types of photography. It has all been done before.
Again and again, I find myself returning to this fact. It underlies, one might say undermines, everything I do. Only the realization that I am capturing a unique moment, well or not so well, keeps me going.
So photography loses its artistic originality and returns to a form of historical record. Which is really how it started for me, and is certainly how I maintained my interest over the years.
And that is how I am going to have to continue. Any pretense to becoming a ‘fine art’ photographer can be laid aside. I might get lucky, casting about as I do to catch an image that lays a stamp on a particular moment, to produce something that might be considered to overlap. But I would stop dead if that was my sole goal. I have to reengage with the flow of time and use that as the fuel for my interest. For only time, moment after moment, is unique.
So it was with the rocks you see above. When I returned to the site the following day, they were knocked down.