Shooting without artifice or pretense
-lessons from a friend-
A friend of mine whom I used to teach with and her husband came over for dinner last night. When she quit teaching at my school Harriet followed a lifelong dream and got a job teaching overseas. Now, they were state-side for a few weeks visiting children, and friends and we had one evening to reconnect before they headed back to Europe.
Two years ago, when they had been overseas, my spouse and I had visited them in Italy. At that point, Doug had a point and shoot camera that he was having fun with as we toured around. Harriet said, “He takes some really interesting photos. He focuses on things I would never look at.” Because of his interest in photography, she had upgraded his point and shoot camera to a mid-level DSLR with a kit lens.
As the evening was winding down, Doug said, “Hey, I’ll get my camera and show you some of the places we have been traveling to.” Great, I would love to see them. He started scrolling through the images on the back of the LCD, there were the usual family photos in great locations, but then there were “his” photos. The ones he was taking as they strolled the streets and boulevards of European cities as the rest of the family was sightseeing or shopping. There were photos with great juxtaposition of textures, or colors, or, patterns or people. There were ones with fresh, unique perspectives. There was a childlike innocence and exuberance in his photos. They lacked pretension. As Doug finished the show and tell, I asked to see the camera as I wanted to have another look at some of the images I found most arresting.
I took the camera, looked at the settings and saw that it was set to “scene mode”. I asked Doug about this and he said, “Oh I don’t know, I just shoot in Auto mode.” Not in “program mode” as the camera manual would have you call it, just auto mode. I looked at one of his images and said, “Doug, I see you shoot in JPG and not RAW.” Doug’s response, “What is RAW mode?” So, I quizzed him further, “So, what do you do with all of the images you take?” He said, “Oh, I have them in a folder on my desktop. I have one from when you two visited.”
So my friend Doug was shooting in Auto mode in the JPG format. He had no knowledge of RAW, no experience with Lightroom or Photoshop for that matter. He certainly didn’t have a blog or website. He didn’t follow any photo websites. He would probably never take any of these images and matte, frame and hang them on a wall. And yet, he had many images on that card that I envied. He shot with a fresh, unencumbered perspective. The images were great. After they left, I laid awake that night thinking about his images and mulling over his joy of photographing with no end product in sight, other than seeing the world in a fresh way.
I have thousands of dollars invested in my photography gear. I have a full frame camera as well as a cropped sensor camera. I have a really nice point and shoot camera. I have several 2.8 lenses. I work with Lightroom and Photoshop. I have this website and blog and, yet, I would have given anything to have shot some of Doug’s images. Coincidentally, I had just been reading a book on Contemplative or Miksang (Japanese for “good eye”) photography called “The Practice of Contemplative Photography” by Andy Karr and Micheal Wood. They have exercises to teach you how to see color or texture or unusual viewpoints without adding artifice or pretense. The book was trying to teach others to shoot photographs that Doug shot instinctively; that Doug shot without the pretense of getting the images published in some magazine, or having a show somewhere, or trying to make enough money to “at least pay for his hobby.” He shot what inspired his sense of design, texture and perspective. He shot with a childlike innocence and exuberance that was so thrilling and thought provoking that it kept me awake that night pondering his outlook. How many of us can say that we shoot without pretense, without some end goal or purpose other than just looking and seeing the world around us. Really, how many of us can say that? That question is something I am going to be asking myself for some time to come.