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Richmond Bridge by Richard Keeling on 500px.com

Obscure.

Much of the motivation behind my life remains so. It takes time and revelation to peel away the rind and let the fruits of insight show themselves.

One thing that has become increasing clear is that my current embrace of black and white film photography has much to do with emotions generated during a brief dalliance with the form many decades ago when I was young man.

Not a happy time, in fact bleak and directionless. I was unexpressive and not good at articulating the turbulence churning within. Depression ruled instead.

That changed, mostly thanks to psychotherapy, and I eventually was able to move on. But the period remains one of deep influence – albeit often as a source of reaction – over the subsequent decades.

At the time I wrote extensively, sometimes getting close to a kernel of truth, sometimes simply making the waters murkier still. That was, and remains so, a primary form of self-expression. However, I supplemented my writings with occasional forays into photography.

Not particularly well-informed forays. I was not in the least bit technically competent beyond a rudimentary ability to focus reasonably well and to pick serviceable settings on the mostly manual-only film cameras that I used at the time. Cameras whose make I have long forgotten, a salutary lesson to hold onto today when I find myself caught up gear talk and losing sight of the fact that the goal of good photography is to produce a meaningful image, and that is the only goal that counts.

For almost all the images, at least the ones in focus and not too horribly composed, are indeed meaningful today. Something I have been reminded of as I go through recently rediscovered old and rather miraculously preserved negatives and prints and scan them into my digital collection.

And the most prevalent manifestation of these meanings are feelings. The actual subject of the photograph is important, true, but when the treatment of the subject coincides with whatever deep emotion I was feeling at the time, the photograph becomes far more than the sum of its parts.

Most of the best black and white photographs were taken on overcast or wet days. Days with lowering clouds and soft contrast. (I knew so little about black and white photography in those days that use of a contrast enhancing filter never entered my consciousness.) Pictures obtained under these conditions, in truth the prevailing weather conditions in England in 1980, so effectively matched my gloomy mood that a single shot was worth an essay of scribbled thoughts.

Today, I can recapture a glimmer of what drove my photography in those days. Shooting black and white film under similar conditions frequently produces results that really please me. Of course, now I know how to operate a camera and compose a scene. How, indeed, to develop my own film and scan it. The results of using these skills add to my pleasure. A different kind of pleasure now that my depression is very well controlled and my artistic expression is far more than a scream in the dark. But the aesthetic remains and calls to me, a powerful impulse and one I would not want to lose.

 

Footbridge, Forest Park by Richard Keeling on 500px.com

Photographs; Top, Richmond Bridge, 1980. Bottom, Forest Park 2015.

 

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