Compromise and Ideals
Motherhood, gardening, cooking, photography and writing are natural activities for me. Extensions of my values and perceptions, mediums through which I can attempt to pin down my emotions, learning experiences and loves. I love people, I genuinely see the beauty in life, in relationships, in God’s good grace and the truth that every day is a thousand miracle thing. I know beauty when I see it and I see it everywhere. Having a camera in hand feels like the best form of living in the moment, appreciating the little things and surrendering to the chance of creating an image that, though inadequately, communicates that beauty.
If I could get in the ground I would. Every Spring when we till and turn the earth I want to soak myself in it somehow. I love early bed, early rising, and good food. And yet, night after night I expend energies and ideas into a box that only holds wires. Often I surrender to the multitude of much that the Internet is. This tool is a sword that, for good and evil, processes emails, records my impermanent and shares my work. I honor it and I love it’s utility and possibility. When I am good and work hard I make use of these things benefitting from friendships and artistic progress, but too often I find that I use it as a tool to distract myself from work, from process, planning and from my demons. It’s a compromise.
The truth is that mediums are inadequate to every artist. Art both in product and process resembles the act of lying. It is the telling of a partial truth. The consumer/customer/client/enthusiast’s demand for new images, new processes, new proofs of talent on sites like Pinterest and Instagram increase these obstructions exponentially and in my experience this cripples much of the value and truth of our medium, photography. It also raises the bar and encourages the artist to feel inspired.
Every creative knows that with work comes compromise. When considering architecture increased height is partnered with increased obstruction. In photography choosing this focus over that focus, this composition over that, kills all possibility in that frame for a different focus or composition. We “decide” or “cide” (kill) we choose one thing and kill everything else that was once possible.
Here are the main two things I compromise as a digital photographer.
PROCESS: I take loads of photos and I hope some of them are good. Sometimes I nail it but I don’t appreciate that much because my process of taking thousands of photos deceives me. CONSEQUENCE: I lose intention. I overshoot and walk away doubting myself.
PROCESS: I spend a significant amount of time editing my digital files. CONSEQUENCE: I lose my original vision and end up hating almost every image I make because the cost it demands from my family, my time and my sanity. I resent the time I spend up late and night and because I resent it I end up wasting time on Facebook, Pinterest, KSL (why?!), NPR, etc to try to distract myself from how awful editing is.
So I live my free time at a computer turning love to hate. Meanwhile books go unread, sleep unslept (made up word), exercise un sized. NOT the way a dirt digging life lover ought to live.
With the new year I committed to learn a different process. Insanity is doing the same thing over while expecting different results right? Right. I must create images differently because these results of my processes just aren’t worth it. Sure, I take some nice photos but the cost of those images is so staggeringly high I may as well not take a damned one. Oh but I’ve made this dysfunction my comfort zone and learning is uncomfortable. So is digging in the dirt to plant seeds but oh, the harvest garden. Aaaaand we’re off!
In the last 6 weeks I have collected images from 10 rolls of film shot on medium format film. My friend, the generous David Miller has taken Meikel Reece and myself under his wing for private tutoring on the discipline of film. It has been expansive in a thousand ways by requiring some very intense hard work. I have found a freedom that comes with utilizing a more appropriate medium. One that reflects and honors my ideals, my vision and my intention while creating images I love.
Dudes, learning and shooting film is not cheap. Not on the bank account, not on the mind, not on the old habits of a digital photographer.
- We spend our Saturdays shooting. Usually a half day 3-6 hours. (COSTS: childcare, meal, time, pride, emotional energy)
- We brainstorm and coordinate shoots with models whom we recruit during the week. (COSTS: time, creativity)
- We work slowly and make lots of mistakes. (COSTS: childcare, pride, brain energy, disappointment, frustration)
- I ask questions that as a professional photographer I should be painfully ashamed of asking (COST: shame).
- I spend a lot of money. Each roll of film is $7/8 to purchase and $18 to process.The fetching back of my camera (which I’ve since remedied) has opened 3 times ruining a few frames (at best) to a full 3 rolls of film. But because I’ve invested so much to get the photos I pay to have them processed at the “best” (I don’t know this yet) lab in the nation because it’s worth it to me to see quality- even in my personal work. I’ve been impressed. I don’t mess around. (COST: research time, MONEY)
So in the last month I’ll tell you what I’ve gained, what I like and why I’ll keep doing this.
Two great friends. Tear wipe. I know. This is 100% true. Meikel and I are vulnerable about the ups and downs of our stuck-in-a-ruttedness. We are able to let all “professionalism” go and candidly talk about our ideals and dreams and how our process chokes a lot of that. That’s just the professional photog stuff. She’s a legit friend now. And David. He’s golden. We laugh hard and he’s patient with how dumb we can be (are).
A more accurate view. First of all- I’ve been a pro photog (which I loosely define here as a photographer who makes $ taking photographs) for 5 years. Once I got into the full-frame sensor cameras there hasn’t been anything about quality of a digital file, nor any editing manipulation that has impressed me. Photographs do, obviously. Medium doesn’t matter that much as concepts, contrast, idea, captures those all impress me. But when I put the medium format viewfinder to my eye I was astounded at how THAT is what I see. It felt natural from the minute we met. I feel sad that so much time has gone by professionally and personally without this more accurate view.
Intention. Sweet, slow, deliberate work. If film is digging straight rows for me then digital was throwing seeds on the soil for 30 minutes and in straight rows for 15. That analogy is weak but it works for me. If I’m going to spend $25 PER ROLL OF FILM I’m not gonna fire away without some consideration. This is a completely debilitating joy. All of my insecurities get a Saturday chance to be questioned. I see my subjects as if I’m looking them in the eye. I don’t feel committed to hearing a shutter click just because I put my camera to my eye. Last year I wrote a little thing about what I had learned in the last 4 years. I wrote some things about personal work that I wished I had known starting out. Well, I’m starting out again and I’m using these things I knew to be mostly regrets. Living a life from regret can be fantastic.
Additionally this intention has extended into my continued work on my digital camera. Monday I shot something exciting with Sarah Winward and I shot 200 images in 4 hours as opposed to the 1000 I would have shot. This whole thing just slows me down. The discipline of film and it’s demand for focus and intention extend into my digital work.
Time. These images aren’t edited. I pay (let’s round up shall we) $20 to edit 15 images. My ratio is low right now but I’m still getting a solid 1/3 of these pics coming out looking nice. So for $20 I get 5 photos. I expect that ratio to increase and I improve my hand at manual focus (a new skill in it’s own right). But that ain’t bad.
Quality. The blacks are detailed, the skin is flattered, the detail is rich and true. PLUS I wait for 2-3 weeks for my scans to arrive and then it’s like finding a time capsule. I love it.
Feeling. I feel refreshed and glad. I feel more authentic and I feel rejuvenated by the work. Both practically and creatively.
So there you have it. That’s a lot to read. Good job for making it through.
These images are some of my first shot on film and they depict the beautiful and gracious Allison Tiek, my partner in crime Meikel and our sensei David.
Thank you to the lovely and willing Hannah Theuson for modeling in the flowers for us today. These are some digital portraits I snuck between film shots. More on that later…
Many thanks to Josh and Rachel Ligari for allowing me to come into their grandmother’s home and photograph her. She was shy of the camera but seemed dedicated to helping me get what I needed. What I needed was some honest glimpses into her life, into her values, her history and all of the life that awaits her.