I'm noticing a sad trend in photo blogs. A lot of people are writing about regrets for things they never got around to doing. Reminiscing about some past "golden age" in photography or settling into their bunkers to rehash the Photo Secession or to re-re-re-appreciate some style (Walker Evans? Eugene Smith? Hopalong Cassidy?) from the days of film and prosperity. What all this depressed introspection seems to tell me is that people are marking this pandemic as the endpoint to their careers in photography and are now settling into the ritual telling of tales from the past. Sitting in a fucking armchair and staring out the window at...nothing.
Of course, if you are financially able, you can certain call it game over and pull up the drawbridges and spend the rest of your life watching your favorite movies re-run on TV and leafing through your stamp collections, or your old photo albums, and regretting all the things you didn't do. Or...you could just suck it up and get back to work on more photography. More art. More of everything. Sure, we've had a two month+ break in which we could sit with ourselves and assess. But the longer we go on with the presumption of having hit the end of the road the rustier we are going to be when we shake off the depression and get our hands back on the cameras and do our work. For pleasure or money.
I'm trying every day to keep my head in the game and my hands on a camera. You'll notice I miss very few days of writing new content for the blog. I also have let all my friends know that now is the time to hit me with all those "can you do me a favor?" projects that tend to pile up. This doesn't mean I'm ready to put safety on the line, and I'm not rushing back to work to make money, but it does mean that I think photographing, like swimming, is something that requires daily or almost daily practice if you are going to be at all good. But more daunting than swimming is that the cultural vision that we all share and add to in our photographs is very much a moving target and even if we think our work doesn't change a daily practice and review would show that most of us incorporate, little by little, the changing textures of society in general and our environments specifically. But we have to experience life to incorporate, in an honest way, these textures and nuances of changing life. We have to get outside our own lethargy.
Yesterday was fun. A friend had asked if I would photograph the exterior of his house over in Dripping Springs, Texas. I was happy to oblige. We do stuff for each other all the time.
I packed a small collection of lenses and a camera, put on my hiking shoes, and headed over (about 28 miles due West) to his house. It's in a neighborhood gifted with marvelous (and challenging) hills for walking, and the majority of the houses sit back on five acre lots. The roads are mostly bereft of any traffic and you could walk down the middle of them, eyes closed, with impunity. After a pleasant walk and a break for ritual coffee I broke out the photo gear and started to explore the exterior of his house. I've visited more than a few times lately and have always loved the way he and his wife have integrated the exterior Texas Hill Country into their home. Big screen porch with a giant dining table. A cozy patio. BBQ smokers and outside cookers galore. Even an outside shower to wash off after a hot run in the sun.
I brought along the Lumix S1R, a Lumix 24-70mm f2.8 S-Pro and a Sigma Art Series 20mm f1.4. The camera has great image stabilization so I left the two car tripods in the car. I made big time use of the in finder levels and shot the files a little dark with the idea of preserving the highlights in the raw files while intending to lift the shadows and midtowns during post production.
For me the fun thing was to have a project that came from outside my own head. I shot a bunch of images and processed nearly 80 of them for my friend's future use. The project focused me on photography, gave me ample hand/eye practice and let me take chances with composition and shooting style. I set the in-camera profile to "flat" and was amazed at how much dynamic range the camera captured.
A client called today from a favorite law firm and needed to track down an image I'd done a couple of years ago of one of their key attorneys. He'd won an award and needed an image of himself for several magazines and journals. I called him directly to see exactly what he needed and we actually settled on a different image he'd come to like better than the one we originally retouched for the law firm. 'Would I mind processing this one?' Of course not. Glad to do it. I spent a while making tweaks in PhotoShop, just to see if I still had the touch, and made the best portrait image I possibly could. He was delighted. I was thrilled to have a "real" reason to jump back into PhotoShop and practice my skills.
I'm putting together a donation package of video gear for Zach Theatre today and will spend a bit of tomorrow delivering the stuff and then getting online with the in-house content producer (who desperately needs some decent tools with which to shoot during the shut down --- for every marketing thing you can imagine) to walk him through all the little tips for using the gear. It's a camera that does wicked good 1080p and very good 4K video as well as a microphone, a mixer, some batteries, two LED light panels and a video tripod. It feels good to know that my gift will be going to a non-profit that I love and also to a producer whose work will really benefit. And it's a way to keep thinking about craft.
Once I hit a stopping point today I'm grabbing a camera and heading out for a long walk. Part of the desire to head out the door is to get some additional exercise (head clearing tonic of the gods...) but also to get my hands all over a camera and work with it like a sculptor works a chisel or a painter works a brush. It's only when you stop; hard stop, and start looking backwards into the scrapbook that the rust starts to creep in. Keep the photographic joints moving and you'll stay in the game. It's only when you surrender to endless reminisces and regret that you kill the spirit and end your engagement with your art. And that would be too sad to contemplate.
Today's camera will be the Panasonic GX8 and I'll be sporting the little 12-32mm, collapsible kit lens when I head out. The choices of how to use your time are stark; you can give up and watch endless tutorials on YouTube (or "research" other crap on the web) or you can remember what drove you into this passion-filled hobby when you were young and fresh and go out the door to see what might be keeping you in the hobby now that you're experienced and crafty. Easy choice for me.
But I get that it's like swimming early in the morning. There's always a rationale for not getting out of bed at 5:30, not putting on your swim gear, not backing out of the driveway, not jumping into the cold water, and not breaking a sweat or breathing hard. But every day you rationalize your retreat is one step further from ever coming back. And back is, generally, where we want to be.
There is an old Zen story about the past, the present and the future. I can't remember it exactly but the gist of it is that if you always ride at the stern of a boat all you will ever see are the places you have been, along with the wake of the boat but if you ride at the bow you see the beautiful, still water in front of you and the places you may yet go. And if you shut your eyes, calm your mind, and breathe you'll experience being in the present. The past is done. Written. That book is closed. The present is where the action is. If you let go of the past you get to live in the exhilarating moment of now. As to the future? One foot forward and all is blackness. You can't know. You can plan but you can't know. That's why amplifying the moment are in now is the strategy that will satisfy you the most.
As my kid always reminds me: No one outside of your own house cares about the awards you won in the past. They're only interested in what you'll do now.
I stopped and thought about that when I was photographing my friend's house. And I thought to myself: How lucky I am to have this camera, this friend and...this day. Make the most of it.
The pool seems like a harsh mistress in the cool chill of early morning
But an hour later the pool seems like a cherished lover.
The water and the motion have enriched you.