I’ve been taking photographs for a long time. A really long time. Since I was a kid and I’m nearly 60 now.
For much of that time I didn’t really take photography seriously. No obsession with cameras, lenses or processing. Just a few rolls shot with a now forgotten film camera and dropped off at the chemists (or pharmacists once I moved to the US) and collected a day or so later.
Many of those carelessly acquired images now have a powerful and emotional resonance. Pictures of people who have died or otherwise dropped out of my life, some of whom were really important to me at the time. Same thing with places.
No thought went into any artistry with those photographs. They were functional. Yet here they are, more meaningful than many – I might say most – of the carefully thought out pictures I’ve created over the past decade or so when I considered myself a ‘serious’ photographer.
There’s a lesson here.
Simply expressed, it’s that much of the received wisdom about photography is irrelevant at best and actively misleading at worst.
Misleading because it takes you away from being true to yourself and moves you towards some sense of perceived excellence. Technique takes over, meaning becomes lost. I see this all the time in the types of photographs that do well in photography competitions or gather popular acclaim on websites. Perfect and empty.
I can make these types of photographs. Have done so. I look back on them now and wonder why I bothered.
I bothered because I wanted to join the crowd. Be acknowledged and acclaimed. Part of me still wants this, to be honest, but another part is rebelling. Rebelling precisely because of those old photographs, imperfect and irreplaceable. Meaningful perhaps only to me, but meaningful nonetheless.
So what’s happened as result?
I’ve completely lost patience with the accepted ways of doing things. In this age of digital perfection, I find myself shooting film using old cameras and old lenses. Home developing and producing work that is unique and thoroughly imperfect. I rebel against resolution and sharpness. I embrace color cast, so easily generated with film yet squelched by digital image processing’s drive for a perfect balance. I’m even buying deliberately wonky films like the wonderful Lomochrome Purple to enhance this effect.
Against perfection. That’s where I am. I see no reason to move away.
(Above, film photograph with slight blue cast. Just want I want to see.)