We have a long one here for you to read, longer than usual, but it is well worth it. This is a letter written by one of our customers to one of his photographer friends to explain a decision of his, a decision to remove the film from his Holga but continue to carry it and use it.... for an entire year. How much are we driven and influenced by our photos? How much are we influenced by our audiences? There are some great ideas to be read in the following note, some great questions to ask yourself as well, and a great opportunity to look at and think about your photography in a different fashion.
But, somewhere along the way, something changed for me. I've had many friends ask me why I quit, and I usually start the story at the end. I usually start by saying, I still shoot (usually with a holga), but I don't put film in my camera anymore. This usually leads to some very puzzled expressions and I have to back up and tell the story from the beginning. Really, I often carry a camera and wander the streets of Portland like I have for the past few years. But, I don't want to see the results of my shots. What I want, is to see the world. My camera changes the way I do that.
When I was 16, I went to Greece for a three week school trip. I brought my camera and, after shooting some pics at the Parthenon, and on Santorini, I started to realize that I was missing the experience of seeing the places I was visiting because I was so focused on trying to save an image to look at later. I put my camera down and didn't take a single shot of the last two weeks of the trip. Or, the next ten years of my life. I just soaked in the scenes and tried my best to live in the moment.
That changed the way I thought about photography and, for the next 14 years, I never owned a camera. I spent almost a decade immersed in wilderness and outdoor activity, climbing and backpacking in Mexico and throughout the western United States, and I have only a few snapshots, given to me by friends, to record any of the experiences. My move to Portland was a dramatic lifestyle adjustment as well. I decided to see how green the grass really is on the more urban side. I rarely backpack anymore (as my photo stream attests) and I gave up rock climbing completely.
But I've always loved photography. I love it for the art. I love the moods, the way Steven Shore can capture a series of lines and patterns in what superficially appears to be a mundane scene and launches the viewer into a different mental space... Ed Weston, transforming a bell pepper or a thigh into a tonal voyage.... and the incredible work of the people I admire so much on Flickr, each image, an experiment, and each photo stream, a progressive map and tale of discovery. I'm sounding melodramatic again. But, these pictures really have changed the way I view the world. And so I wanted in. I started sharing too.
And I started wandering the streets of Portland, looking with fresh eyes at cracks in the sidewalk, streaks on a wall, buildings and, best of all, people. I saw light, lines, and structures in a way that I hadn't previously seen them. Unlike my days in Greece, trying to capture a snapshot for posterity and thus pulling myself away from a moment, this new way of using the camera had the opposite effect. Now, I was being pulled in. And I started to examine the constantly evolving scenes of my daily walk to work with new appreciation. It's hard not to keep sounding melodramatic. But it's true.
We've never met. At least not face-to-face. And I have no idea if we'd even be friends if we lived a few blocks apart (but I suspect we would). But in your photostream, I found such tremendous inspiration because you constantly capture the things I'm talking about. And, as I aimed my lens at the sidewalk and buildings of Portland, it not only changed the way I would see my own town, through Flickr, it changed the way I would see the world. I had a blurred pigeon, flying past a column, as my desktop background for a year. Because that pigeon was such an awesome example of something I would encounter every day, but would never have thought to capture the art of it like you did. So, on Flickr I found inspiration and a wealth of new art.
Until it became too much. And something changed. At first I liked the attention. No, not just at first, I still like it. When an image hits the explore page, or when I get mail from someone who requests to use an image in a publication, or someone leaves a sincerely flattering comment, or a zillion of them, I like it. And I like to reciprocate. I like being able to tell someone how truly inspirational they are. But the attention doesn't have anything to do with the cracks in the sidewalk. Once again, my reasons for taking pictures started to shift. I wasn't taking snapshots to put in a photo album like I was in Greece when I quit shooting. I was still trying to capture something artistic, and I was still experiencing the moment of the shoot. But the attention of a Flickr page vied for my energy as much as, and sometimes more than, the shoot itself. I started to feel an obligation to produce something. This has an upside, it kept me shooting. But it has a downside as well. If my images didnt get attention I'd get bummed out. And I started to think about "my audience" more. I started to cater my shots to the Flickr folks who were looking at my stream. Steadily my number of contacts grew. I couldn't keep up (which I'm sure you are familiar with) and then, the final straw, was when I realized that I wasn't shooting cracks in the sidewalk anymore. As I was shooting, I was thinking about what might attract attention. My post process became less about my own ideas and visions, and more about trying to speak to an audience that I was rapidly realizing I didn't know. I feel like, on some level, I know you. I know Dan. I know Angie, and Noicework (Allison), and Zeb, and Sati. But I don't know most of the 200-something people on my contact list. But I want to. And so it all spiraled until one day, I took the film out of my holga. I can't say that I don't care about the attention a photographer on Flickr receives. But I can say that it isn't why I started taking pictures again.
So, it wasn't a conscious decision to stop posting images. It was a gradual realization that I actually felt more inspired when I didn't have film in my camera. I don't need the snapshot. I want to see a moment. My camera helps transform the way I do that so I will keep playing with my camera. And, I might start posting images again. I really do love the comments, the feedback, the sharing. But I don't want that to be my reason for shooting pictures.
Anyway, this got long. I've felt like explaining myself for a while now. I still love to quietly surf the pages of Flickr. I love spending hours in the photography section of Powell's Books. And I still love to stop to think about the lighting on the buildings as I walk to work. I'll keep shooting. And on occasion, I'll keep posting. And I hope that people will keep looking. I know I will. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thespeak/6923667198/