Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Zen of Over-Complicating ~

After taking some time off and trying (unsuccessfully) to accomplish things the past couple weeks, I'm brought back to my blog to make some observations about an online video I watched last week. The video was ominously titled 20 False Facts That Even Professionals Believe To Be True. I should be quick to point out that the "professionals" in question were photographers, just to be clear. But overlooking the obvious oxymoron (or maybe not; John Oliver often emphasizes "true facts", so there may be more than one kind of fact, in fact) the video was a revelation. Of sorts.

The video, hosted by one Tony Northrup in Modern Lens Magazine, covered a wide range of issues, such as a lens' "sweet spot" (as related to sharpness), the Reciprocal Rule, crop factors, f-stops, infinity focus, and a lot more. All busy, arcane, complicated minutia...and I loved every minute of it. I am, of course, an unrepentant gear-head, and a bit of a math geek, albeit somewhat clumsy at it.  There was a time, back in my old studio days before the ubiquity of automation, where these skills were useful, even necessary.

Speaking for myself, however, this commotion can be a problem. The mesmerizing complexity of technology, sweet siren song though it is, is often an obstacle to making a beautiful photograph. Creativity requires simplicity; photography often demands complexity. Ours is a technical field, after all; it's not canvas-and-brush. We are forced to be cognizant of -- and familiar with -- a lens' sweet-spot, and crop factors, and infinity focus. And much, much more. It's tough to wean ourselves away from it.

I'm trying to be comfortable with the largeness of less, and I think I'm getting away with it. I love my iPhone. I love my mirrorless Fuji. I love the aperature-preferred setting. I love simple, accessible software. I love making my eyes do the work. I love that I'm starting to feel my way into a photograph more than working my way into it. Most of all, I love that it's a process and that it's something I can get better at.

While my worldview has expanded to include most of the universe, my vision is honing down to a sweet-spot of its own: this moment, this place, this light.

And that's a fact.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mist and Sand ~

Is it the mists of time? the sands of time? One suggests a lack of clarity as we look back; the other, of unstoppable passage. Either one will play havoc on a camera, but they also do a number on our minds. It's like our own personal Uncertainty Principle: if we dig deeply into one, we know less about the other.

I'm brought to this odd rambling by the news of my mother's passing in the early hours this morning. Though not unexpected (she was near 93, bless her heart) it was nonetheless a tearful reunion with my memories. And a precious few old pictures. I heard a talk by a philosopher a while back who suggested that we don't really remember the past, but instead we recall our memories of the past, and that each new recollection builds upon many layers of increasing imperfection. So of course I think of photographs.

There are a handful of photos from my mother's childhood, like the one above (she's the cutie on the right). Someone in the family -- an eccentric uncle, perhaps -- must have had a folding Kodak or something because there are a few lovely old images. There's even a photo of my grandmother and her brothers taken shortly after their arrival here from Mexico, probably around 1916 or so. But of my father's family, there are almost none, so the stories of their lives in the old Pacific Northwest, and even earlier in Canada, have no snapshots to freshen recollections. Sad indeed, but the many pictures I've taken over the years of both mom and dad will hopefully keep their memories alive for my granddaughter, and her kids, and even theirs.

My most prized possessions on this earth are the photo albums of my two children; if the house were to catch fire I'd rescue those and little else.  And now with grandchildren, that drive to preserve those moments is more compelling than ever. Memories are imperfect indeed, mine probably more than most. If I can only remember my memories of the past, then I want photographic evidence. I will never forget my mother's face; I have it right here in front of me for all time.

But philosophers be damned. Time does go on, of course; we watch our children grow and our parents die as we ourselves walk ever onward. Somewhere along the way is that place we want to pause for a while and make whatever memories we can, pleasant or not, before it gets too late.

While we're there, let's take some pictures.