Wednesday, April 1, 2020

I Don't Know

There's tons of people out there who can grab a camera and take a ramble and come back with a bunch of pictures, and in a way, I am jealous of them. Not all of them produce pictures that are any good, and some of them tend toward imbuing these visual beachcombings with rather more weight than I find convincing. But sometimes they're perfectly nice pictures, pleasing to look at.

I could probably do this, technically. At least pretty well. I like to think I have some minimal competence in filling a frame.

The point is, though, that I don't want to. It's not that I am jealous of other people's ability to do it, I am jealous of their ability to take pleasure in doing it. It's just not fun for me, and it clearly is for them (even the windbags, even the people who take junky snaps of nothing.)

Related, and even more important in my tiny insular philosophical corner of the world, is that I find myself unable to force a story to emerge from snapped pictures.

I am certain, as sure as I am that the sun will rise, that if one simply goes and takes photos on some theme, that some sort of project can in theory emerge. One can, eventually, construct a sort of poem, a sonata, or a story, by simply starting out shooting and letting the project emerge.

I can't do it.

I absolutely cannot do it. I have tried, and it does not happen. I have to have some sort of project idea to start with, or nothing happens. What emerges may not much resemble the initial project idea, so in theory I could have started anywhere, right? If the end of the journey is far away from the beginning, why does it matter where you start? And yet, somehow, it does.

I have over the years preached variations on this process, this method that does not work for me, so if I suckered you into it and it didn't work for you either, I apologize. On the other hand, maybe it worked beautifully for you! In that case, I do not apologize.

As always, I dare say there is a spectrum from no idea whatever to a very clear idea indeed and all I can really be sure of is that I need to begin somewhere near the clear idea end of the spectrum. Where, exactly, is a bit murky. All I know is that if I am too far off in the weeds, I end up with a pile of photos and no will whatsoever to look at them after a little while.

So, I Don't Know! Maybe you should always start with a pretty clear project idea!


  1. I'm a perambulating photographer, and never had any success shooting for a preconceived project, because that approach ruins my shooting eye, and the results are dull AF. I think it's because of my background in other visual art media, and a theory of chance in creativity which I stumbled upon ~40-years ago by reading David Sylvester's interviews with Francis Bacon (here).

    I just walk around, shoot stuff and hope something turns out. The shots I think will be winners invariably aren't, and the shots I doubt the most (as in wtf did I take that picture, right after taking it) often turn out to be my best.

    Anyway the shot (or "capture" in digicam parlance) is but the first step in a procedure that now involves digital scanning and post-processing (sort of an analog of darkroom work, except it's an order of magnitude more flexible), and occasionally ends up in a project or even several projects, if it lends itself to that sort of use.

  2. I found out that for me it totally depends on my personal response to the environment in which I find myself. For decades I lived in a small, tiny actually, Florida island fishing community which since has changed into much more of a vacation rental/tourist destination. I could go on a walk any day and come home with, for me, satisfying and interesting photos. I now live in a beautiful part of a bigger city and I am totally uninterested in taking a single photograph.


  3. I know a few people who used to do photography and now have stopped, unable to find any reason to do it anymore. And yet there are some of us who just go ahead and take pictures anyhow, as a part of just looking around -- 'real' photographers, perhaps, or 'gearheads.'
    Here's our project as I see it:
    My goal is that some time way off in the future a few of my snaps from walking around town, or traveling somewhere, will end up in some junk store, where somebody will come across them and find them interesting and think, 'So that's what things looked like back then.' Note that any deeper point I wanted to make, any clever irony or connection that I wanted to make when I took them, will be irrelevant then.
    Not much of a project, I'll admit, and definitely related to my age. But it's a large part of what I enjoy about others' photographs (I'm often in tears over at Shorpy for instance).

    1. Oh man, now I want to start making small black and white prints, distressing them, and shoving them by the handful into random crap in thrift stores.

    2. Some dude made an art -y project of sorts for Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival (see where I'm going with this?), 'rescuing' found family photo albums, and offering them up to the public at the AGO (our local art museum). AFAICS didn't have many takers, and the lot got landfilled anyway.

      *This may be an unreliable account by an unreliable witness.

  4. Well then, I see my work here is done.

  5. "unable to force a story to emerge" seems to be key in your piece. Then "no(one) will whatsoever -to- look at them". You want a (great) story, though unforced, for an audience. I think the whole narrative 'series' thing, is another attempt to find the new by a restless, endlessly seeking, culture. No freedom in that.

  6. What I enjoy about wandering around taking meaningless photos is the escape from my own chattering thoughts. The pictures are less relevant on such a photo expedition than the meditative quality of the experience.

  7. How am I ever gonna make my 10,000 hours required for mastery if I require a defined project prior to taking a picture?! ;-) I find that many times the project gets hatched after a few hundred ad-hoc photos are reviewed.