Sunday, August 30, 2015

Photo Tourism

Workshops, guided tours, get-togethers, photo walks. Breaking in to abandoned structures. These are all variations on the photo tourism theme. The idea is to go to a photographically rich place and take some pictures. Sometimes you bring a guide, sometimes you don't. You're only there for a little while. A few hours, a few days.

These trips invariably generate a bunch of In The Bubble Pictures (ITBPs).

The locations are photographically rich because they're unusual, they're usually rich in geometry and texture, and often in color. The conceit is that they're interesting because they're new, something we haven't see. Except that we have seen them. I am sick to death of jerks going to Prague or Shibuya or an abandoned mental hospital, prison, apartment building. This isn't even remotely new. Well, it is to people who haven't seen it, so there's always a few new folks who can get some delight from it, but the charm wears off fast.

The name of the game, for some, is to find the new shot, the inspired shot. Perhaps if I lie down in the mud and shoot up, or use a 10000mm lens to isolate detail or, or, or. The trouble is all that's been done too. Trying to find something new to shoot is the wrong thing to do. This doesn't work, and produces only ITBPs, because it can't work, and it can't produce anything else.

For some, the name of the game is simply to enjoy the process, and that actually makes sense. There's a process, which I can readily understand as fun. But, please, be self-aware enough to know that you're enjoying s process and a place and so on, not making important and powerful pictures.

If I got to Prague to shoot for a couple of days, all I can really do is shoot the same old shit, except now in Prague, with Prague-shaped buildings and people instead of Bellingham shaped buildings and people. There's no real Prague-ness to anything I shoot.

If you're going to get some essential Shibuya-ness as envisioned by you, as moderated by you, into your photos, you need time. I don't know how much, but I suspect that for most people it's more than a couple frenetic days.

You have to form an impression of Shibuya. You need to digest it, let those impressions gel and ripen into a mature and complete form (yes, even if you want to try to photograph that instant first impression, I think).

Then you need to meditate on or otherwise process that mature impression to find if there's something you want to say in it. Now that you have an idea of Shibuya, what does that translate in to, in terms of the pictures you'd like to make? You have to discover that, somehow. Maybe there's nothing there, you have nothing photographic to say. Maybe there is, though. If you flew to Japan for just this purpose, I sure hope there's something to do in Shibuya other than make bad Gurskys.

Finally you need to translate that idea, that thing to say, into a set of specific technical choices. How are you going to shoot Shibuya to convey the idea you want to convey?

Maybe it's just me, but this stuff ain't happening in a few hours, or a couple of days. I have to live there. Or maybe I could visit a several times?

A workshop is just about the worst possible context in which these sorts of things could happen. A bunch of like-minded idiots who want to compare cameras with you, an instructor who's droning on about leading lines and trying out new perspectives like getting down low or using a wide angle lens, a schedule, and a general social whirl blundering around trying to figure out where to have lunch.

If you go spend a couple days shooting with a bunch of guys In The Bubble, I think it's pretty much guaranteed that you're going to take ITBPs. What strength of character it would take to do anything else!

If I had five days free in which I could fly to London to take a workshop, why the fuck would I waste my time with it? I could spend those five days at home in Bellingham, doing something with weight, instead of upending everything and hurling myself into a bunch of unknowns in the hopes that something interesting might happen despite everything. It's like trying to cure the flu by just eating whatever garbage you can find in the alley.

On the other hand, of course, shooting In The Bubble is fun for people in the bubble. If the workshop is about taking a pleasant photo-themed vacation, great. Some people genuinely love the process of picture-taking. They like finding that pleasing geometry, that amusing play of color, the echoing of shapes or textures. There are generally pictures in the bubble, but so what? If the idea is simply to make those pictures, great.

I noodle stupidly around on the piano, playing tunes not even inside a bubble. If you just like shooting, or whatever, you have my blessing to go do that. Go to it.

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