I’ve been wanting to write something about the importance of photography for a while. A whole bunch of other people have done it, photographers and non-photographers, talking about how they got started, what it means to them, all that. Some describe how they picked up a camera and ‘I was hooked, and didn’t look back’.
As creative humans we romanticise things like that. It’s actually what photography is about for me, after all I’m here writing a big ‘thing’ about it. Anyway, that simple statement isn’t enough. Whenever I hear that, it’s like someone is glossing over a much larger period of time where they discovered they loved something so much they had to make it their life.
It’s never just one moment.
I assume people just say that to simplify. Perhaps to efficiently explain to others. I’m guilty of it too, but nearly every day I see something that perpetuates the notion that photography is simple, photography being the act of picking up a camera and pressing the shutter release.
Photography isn’t fucking simple.
I’m a pretty simple person in many ways. I love sleeping in, playing xbox, beer and football (soccer…) and cricket, I love travel, fancy cameras, pretty girls. I married a pretty girl. We made a gorgeous kid! Relatively simple things one would talk about over a drink. I don’t take myself seriously.
But… that photo just above of my son, see it’s not about being taken with a Nikon D3s and a Sigma 35/1.4 and processed with VSCOFilm to make it look like I shot it on Kodak Tri-X film (all correct stats, FYI). To some, photography is all about that. It’s all about them saying that I needed more than 12mp to make that photo, or that VSCOFilm is just a fad for hipsters, or that the lens isn’t as sharp wide open as their brand, or that the AF is… you get the picture. Pun not intended. Just for the record, 12mp is plenty and my lens is fucking sharp.
This photograph is about family, childhood, growing up, memories and love.
People sometimes forget that when we had film we had to write down our exposures if we wanted to remember them all. Film stock was a creative choice that was as much about feeling as it was technical. We didn’t have all this data on hand to compare how big our apertures could go, how many megapixels we had and how my brick-wall-lens-test photo is sharper than yours, and why don’t we just whip our genitals out and compare them while we’re at it?
Technology has both democratised and commodified photography more than ever. We can’t change this. But people who explore photography, amateur, professional, beginner, whatever, need to understand that there is more to it than data.
I’m a simple person. I love fondling the latest f/1.rediculous lens that someone brought out, and I love camera porn, and I love new toys. It’s ok to have just that little bit of Gear Acquisition Syndrome. But I’ve discovered in myself that once I agonise over gear choices and methods that I just forget about it all. I use it to make photographs that are about how I see the world, and how my clients want their world to be remembered, even for just one day.
For me, photography is about memories first and foremost. Just like it was to my parents, and my grandparents, and even my great grandparents. When my Great Grandfather died I had a photo of him that I wanted to print for his wife. He was sitting in his lounge room on the chair he always sat on. It was fucking beautiful. It was the first roll of Ilford Pan F I had shot, iso 50 film that had the most beautiful subtle and soft tones. I was at photo school at the time and I was planning to print it in the darkroom. She asked me at the funeral when I was going to be able to do it, and I said soon, and smiled.
I never ‘got around’ to making that print. She’s gone now too. She didn’t know what Ilford Pan F was.
If that was a digital photo perhaps she would have received her print… film is not better or worse than digital, it’s just different. The point is that I was lazy about photography, and as a result there was a place on a wall where a frame was meant to go that never was filled.
Every day we get our fill of noise on our facebooks, twitters, RSS readers and instagrams. I make plenty of it and receive in kind just the same, but most of it is just noise. Photography is amazing because even though an image is totally silent it has the potential to scream. It has the potential to speak to you and tell you that even though there’s a lot of shit going on, some things are ok. Life is ok. Your family is ok. There is still good in the world.
Or something like that.