I’ve always known that it’s the vision, not the camera, that makes the image. I’ve even experienced it from time to time. This time, I thought I’d share it. A weekend on the beach turned into an encounter with a lone sea lion (pictured last post) and two cameras. The previous image was taken with my Mamyia 7 – a hunk of plastic and metal far more expensive than I could afford with medium format film that’s on it’s way to extinction. A good camera – got some nice shots with it. This photo was taken with a Pentax IQ145 Zoom – a point-and-shoot film camera with a manual setting that crops to allow “panoramic” shots. In this case, the setting is broken – stuck half way open, creating an effect I quite like most of the time; sort of a half-vignette. The film was old, the camera crappy, but the light was good and the subject well-posed and there we go.
Sam Abell recently gave a talk at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art about his (and Torben Ulrik Nissen’s) show Amazonia. The photographs are beautiful, and the stories of their time in the Amazon rainforest are compelling. One of the key ingredients to the feel of their photos is a sense of place – not separating the animal from their surroundings by zooming in, but rather telling the story of the interconnectedness between the animal and their home.
After hearing their talk, I looked through some photos I had taken at the Oregon beach of a sea lion that had improbably hauled itself onto the sand, to be pestered by passerbys and their dogs(!) As the largest living thing at that spot, it never seemed to care very much, and yet I dared not get too close, and had to be satisfied with distance shots. At the time, I cursed myself for not bringing a longer lens, but now, as I review the images, I can’t help but seem somewhat pleased.
And another photo from the beach:
I struggle with the transition to digital photography at times: I scan film, download memory cards, and it all just goes into this box underneath my desk. I feel like I am straddling two worlds – shooting film then digitizing it and filing it away … for what? Future posterity? Something for my child to find and wonder about? I’d like to say that film is better as we’re given a print to save and keep, but then I wouldn’t be able to open up Adobe Bridge, wondering what to post today, and find an old photo that I felt the punctum in again.
While toying with the thought of buying a new digital camera that I just can’t afford, I’ve been pulling out the unused film cameras that offered me so much joy in the past – from a medium format beast to a simple point and shoot. Part of photography for me is the technology – the weight of the camera around my neck, the view through a rangefinder, and above all, the unknown quality of film. After a shoot with my digital, when I pick up a film camera, I find myself looking at the back after I shoot. Usually, I see what kind of film I’m using. I guess that’s the biggest difference between film and digital for me – the participation. It’s been said that a photographer is mediating his experience with the world by putting a camera between himself and what’s on the other side, and I feel that a digital camera can do that even more by adding a self-editing step into the process. Instead of shoot shoot shoot, it’s shoot, look, shoot, look, etc.
All this is fine – mediating my experience, objectifying the world around me, separating myself in order to document it. Because I’ve found that despite all that, being a photographer can actually bring you closer to the world around you – more observant, more in tune with what’s happening than you might have been. I remember a morning at Crater Lake in Oregon – I had just driven from Sacramento the night before (delivering an eagle of all things for the Cascades Raptor Center) and got up early to catch some morning light. I chose my vantage point, set up my tripod and waited. In the time I was there, several cars drove up, got out, took a few shots, wandered around, then left. I was able to watch the sun rise over the rim, saw a kestrel hunting for breakfast, and got some great shots to boot. I just haven’t scanned them yet.
The quote from a card, now lost but forever in my memory. The banality of the message, the generic schlock – it reminds me of an ad in a writer’s magazine for someone’s book: “Everybody has a story to tell: This is mine.”
“Moments” are what photography is all about, mostly. This place, this thing, at this moment. But that, too, generalizes. Because it’s not. Some are, some aren’t. Is this my moment, or the bird’s? Is it a moment in objective space? Does a tree …. ahhh, forget it.