Re-learning how to be a beginner.

I love this image. I love it because it's photograph of Belinda from decades ago. We were sitting in our favorite restaurant, Sweetish Hill Restaurant, on a warm Spring morning on a Sunday. We spent many Sunday morning there eating wonderful egg dishes and savoring pastries and coffee. It was a slower,  quieter, less nervous time. 

I'd brought along one of my favorite little cameras, an Olympus Pen FT half framer, loaded with Tri-X film. The lens on the front was the svelte but hefty 40mm 1.4.  The camera spent the morning mostly hanging from its strap from the back of my chair but I loved the way the light came through a skylight and put Belinda's face into a mix of shadow and highlight. I picked up the camera and shot a number of frames and then I put it down and we drifted off onto another topic. 

We were both working in ad agencies back then and photography had reverted from an early, halting career back into a hobby for me. Belinda had given me a black Pen FT and a collection of lenses as an engagement present. I still have them all (and many more) today. The camera went with me everywhere. 

I knew that the lens was sharp a stop and a half down from full aperture so I am sure I had it set for f2 or f2.5 and I'm sure I set the shutter speed according to the in camera meter. I knew enough to be dangerous but there was certainly no over thinking going on. No ruminations about introducing fill flash or augmenting the angular light with some sort of white reflector. The beginner mind was content with the scene as offered. 

One of the reasons I now like this image is because of the jaggedy black line that runs horizontally behind Belinda's head. It echoes and and mimics the black lines that run across her shirt. I love everything about the almost frenetic background even though it is seemingly at odds with our notion that the only good bokeh is smooth bokeh. 

I find myself now trying sub-consciously to control every aspect of images I shoot and I think it's a natural response to years of controlling light and composition in the service of paying clients. But when I look through collections of earlier images. Images made when I was not a professional photographer I find that I consistently like them better. I am attracted to what attracted my eye in the first place. 

It's not that I like the images because I am willing to overlook whatever perceived flaws are resident in the early images but precisely because there are flaws in the early images. It's the flaws that  reinforce the authenticity of the photographs for me. The rawness is part of the original way I saw whatever is in the frame. I like that I wasn't compulsively correcting myself back then. 

I aspire to that now. 


Gato said...

Lovely photograph.

For many of us the challenge may be to keep the sense of wonder and excitement that made our early efforts unique while mastering the technique and control to consistently record what we see. Not to mention balancing that with our need for approval, ranging from a working professional needing to make a living to the casual hobbyist who just wants a few nice comments from friends and family.

I had to go look for the Picasso quote: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."

Anonymous said...

There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.

Great photo!


Frank Grygier said...

It is difficult to maintain the "no mindedness" of the beginner. The "classical mess" of repetitive actions leads to inaction at the critical time. In my case the more I learn about the technical nature of photography the less spontaneous I become with a camera.

John Krumm said...

I just got back a bunch of film and scans from "The Darkroom," an online lab. One of the rolls was tri-x, and the exposures that turned out right (not blown horribly in bright sun) are just a pleasure to look at. I can't get Lightroom digital images to look the same, perhaps because I don't lean on the black slider enough, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Long enough a break might help. Then, after the break, the first few photo shoots shouldn't smell anything like work. They should be 100% for fun and spur of the moment only. That just might do the trick, or at least help in rediscovering the inner beginner.

I took an almost complete break from photography, both professionally and as a hobby, that lasted for several years. Roughly from 2000 to 2003. I had kinda lost my mojo.

During that time I didn't even carry a point&shoot around. I only shot a few obligatory but simple assignments with a film SLR, related to my own work and shooting for a friend who's an entrepreneur and needed my help.

But other than that, I did not touch a camera. Nor did I ever even look at anything related to cameras and photography, online or in print. Obviously I was working within another industry at that time to make ends meet. In hindsight, I suppose I needed the almost total break.

But then, later in that decade the old flame reappeared somehow, and slowly I was able to catch occasional glimpses of the early magic again. It wasn't exactly the same as it was when I was still young and bright-eyed, obviously, but at times it felt almost like the early days. Until I started combining photography and work again. :)

Another thing that has helped in my case is delving even further into the video side of things for the past four or so years. That has in fact almost recreated the kind of early magic again, at least momentarily, and helped me to get my mojo back.

Juan Carlos said...

Hi Kirk, perhaps you should take out the old Pen FT again, and shoot with it for a while (not exclusively of course). From reading this post, I am assuming that subconsciously you would associate using this camera with a less serious/more playful mindset, since it was used at a time when you weren't doing photography as a strict professional (at least that was the impression I got in reading this post).

For me, I changed the aspect ratio to 3:4 portrait in my OM-D just to see what it may have been like to compose with an old Pen half-frame. I'm having fun so far. :-)

darango said...

To improve my photography, I did a 365 project a few years back. That improved my technical skills. I'm trying to have the beginner's mind on the the non-technical things now.

Dennis said...

Nice post, Kirk and a really nice photo.

I'd like to suggest that maybe it's not a beginner thing, but the difference between being an amateur and a pro.

As a pro, you have different concerns than the amateur. Most control, but less freedom (because of the client).

I've been an amateur photographer for many years now, and reconciled a couple things with myself after being envious of the success of this or that photographer. I determined that the reason I take photos is to share what I see. And as much as I admire the skills of the pros who can make something from nothing and the artists who can previsualize a concept and create it out of thin air, I'm not those guys. I'm just a photographer. If something catches my eye, I'll see if there's a photo to be made.
I do shoot some things with a more 'pro' mindset. School plays and concerts, dance recitals, sporting events. I'm out to make the most of the situation (and sometimes the situation is bad) and exercise what control I have (typically in post processing). I don't find that kind of photography nearly as satisfying, but still love recording those events and sharing the results.

Aldy Ariffi said...

'...It's the flaws that reinforce the authenticity of the photographs for me...' Same here. IMHO digital images have become too clean, too perfect (technically) and often boring. I just recently found the work of bieke depoorter, the youngest member of magnum. Awful digital noises by 'today standard'. But then I realize that these noises are one of the primary reasons that make her photographs beautiful.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Lovely image Kirk. Must have been great times...

Peter said...

Great post, image seems very alive.

Beginner's mind
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few,"
Shunryu Suzuki

Seems like a worthy aspiration to me.