Categories
Art Photos

Roll 500 (05000031)

M6TTL, 50 Hex, Xp2, Rodinal Stand

Somewhere in the last couple of weeks, my film-o-meter clicked over 500. That would be 500 rolls of mostly b&w since I came back to photography a couple of years (4-5?) ago. The website was born shortly thereafter. You can check out the bones of the original site in the wayback machine.

I’d been an avid photographer as a teenager, to the extent that I finagled three hours of class room time a day in the darkroom during high school, only in part as a means of hiding out. I lost the photography itch somewhere in college (poverty and illness . . . bleh), but I picked it up again when Kate and I got together (yes, the two are inextricably linked). Since then, apart from a few very short breaks, I’ve photographed almost everyday. It’s become a habit that would be nearly impossible to break.

After 500 rolls, I think I actually know less about what I want to do with photography, but I enjoy it more. Part of this is just improved technical skills – I spent 18 months fighting water spots on my negs – but the larger portion of the enjoyment comes from letting go of the fear, the fear of sucking, the fear of looking like a fool, the fear of being that guy that carries a camera everywhere, the fear of smelling like fixer, the fear of being obsessive, and the fear of spending nearly all your money on something that will likely only ever result in the slightest of monetary gains. Did I mention the fear?

Anyway, the first 500 have been fun, and the next 500 look to be even more so. Soon, I promise, I’ll cut out all this reflection and get back to the photography. Stay tuned.

Categories
Art Photos

The least decorative of all the arts . . .

Hexar RF, CV 35 1.4 SC, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol

The post title is a quote taken from Black White + Grey, a fascinating documentary about Sam Wagstaff, the collector and curator who, among other things, brought Robert Mapplethorpe to fame. The documentary makes a case for Wagstaff inventing the market for photography by beginning to collect the works of unknown and often anonymous photographers particular those of the 19th and early 20th century. In those photographs, Wagstaff found the value of photography in its distance from art and its nearness to seeing. In his own words taken from various parts of the film:

. . . it seemed somehow almost more mysterious, this black and white thing, this series of grisaille images, which were like art, which seemed to ape art in many instances particularly around the turn of the century, but were never art, thank god. They were something else . . . I came to photography after having hated it. I wondered why anyone was involved with it for years. I was in a much superior mode of endeavor called A R T. Photography is the least decorative of all the arts, we certainly can say that. It don’t hold the wall terribly well. . . It is something that I don’t really talk about particularly because I don’t think about it in verbal terms, I guess. I think of Wallace Steven’s remark that the great poem defies the intelligence almost completely. . . I would say that photography for me does the same thing.

‘It don’t hold the wall terribly well’ is not perhaps the critique that many photographers would hope for, but it does get to the heart of some of photography’s anxiety over its current place the art world, namely that the rest of the art world doesn’t take photography seriously enough. Literal attempts to hold the wall better by ever increasing the size of the prints seems not to have resulted in photography being taken any more seriously; a 42 inch inkjet print is still an inkjet print after all. A better salve for that anxiety might be to accept that photography isn’t really an art in the most traditional of senses. Photography certainly doesn’t take the level of technical skill that something like painting or sculpture takes; you can teach someone most of what they need to know about the technical aspects of photography in less than a day. Certain refinements of technical skill may take years to learn, but those pursuits are often coincidental to the act of seeing, which is really the central gift of photography. In this way, I think photography is more akin to writing than it its to other more traditional arts. The gift of a great writer is not in their ability to write a grammatically elegant sentence – although many are masters of this craft – but in their ability to see their subject more clearly and to communicate what is seen.

Of course, the part that can’t be taught in a day, and this is true of both photography and writing, is the seeing part, the act of selecting from the noise of the world a distillation that improves our understanding of the whole. This is the part of photography that sets it aside from the other arts. This is the part that ‘defies intelligence,’ and it is to this that photography should perhaps pay more attention. Instead of demanding the respect of the art world by ever increasing the technical sophistication of the end result, photography would do better to sell itself as a way of seeing, less as a form of art, and more as a life skill that can lead not just to art, but to a more interesting life. It is in that pursuit that photography will find its best hope of gaining the respect it deserves.

Categories
Art Photos

Assorted Good Advice

Hexar RF, 50 Hex, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol
Hexar RF, 50 Hex, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol
Hexar RF, CV 35 1.4 SC, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol
Hexar RF, CV 35 1.4 SC, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol
Hexar RF, CV 35 1.4 SC, Adox CHS 100 Art, Xtol

See here and here. Just keep shooting. Something will click.