It was a black and white day in downtown Austin.

It was a quiet day yesterday. I went to swim practice and then came back home to an empty house. B. is out of town tending to a family member in hospital. I've been left to fend for myself. After some basic house keeping I got bored and decided to go out for a walk with my camera. It was a gray day and one that I thought would be better imaged in a monochrome representation. 

I took my favorite camera, a crusty, stout Leica SL. I paired it with the new lens "flavor of the week", the Voitlander 58mm. I shoved an extra battery into my pocket and headed down to walk a familiar route. 

Nothing had changed. And as I walked on I felt a certain sense of futility with yet another walk through an all too familiar urban-scape. Another stroll through the most casually dressed city imaginable. Another unfulfilling experience dodging girls in denim skirts riding recklessly fast on electric scooters down the middle of the sidewalks, here to celebrate some bride's upcoming plunge into marriage. Wending my way around the same street people begging for money. Inflation strikes even there. Used to be the active homeless would ask for "spare change" now they are demanding $5 for lunch. For some it seems like a full time, all seasons job. 

I was shooting with a lens burdened by no particular detractions or attractions other than its nod toward nostalgia and the comfort of the familiar. I'm sure every one else has been there. There is now a loneliness in walking around with a camera photographing random stuff. I spent hours in what is one of Texas's top tourist locations and not a single other person carried an actual camera. Sure, people occasionally stopped to photograph something with an iPhone but I was more or less the crazy uncle hobbyist that time and culture have passed by. Even the folks snapping away with their phones seemed less passionate about the endeavor yesterday. Almost as though we've all concluded that with the endless torrent of images being constantly shared everywhere that no individual shot or selection of shots matters anymore. Another drop in the ocean. Another futile attempt to carve out some sort of alternate viewpoint. A different visual perspective of a declining culture. Hello "The Americans" except that now everyone with a camera is a Robert Frank. 

It's almost as if we've become mini cover bands for famous rock groups sitting in dour suburban garages doing our paeans to the classics and the classical originators. Endlessly covering "Hey Jude" or "Tangled Up in Blue" but without the talent, or the advantage of being the first mover. The first person to see in a certain way. Now, seventy years after Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams and so many other pioneers we keep paying homage by trying to fit our tiny feet into the deep tracks they laid into the mud of our visual culture, so long ago. And doing so mostly unsuccessfully but in enormous quantity. 

After a forgettable dinner I entertained myself by watching a movie from Disney's new take on endless "Star Wars." But all the subsidiary shows in that franchise now mash together and endlessly repeat the theme of the redeemed gunslinger working through his past and paying penance with violence ostensibly to help the universe ... in some way or another. So boring. So predictable. From spear throwing Tuscan raiders to warp drive spaceships, all concurrent.

Many, many years ago I loved movies. I was mystified when a much older mentor of mine told me he could no longer stomach movies because, after decades of enduring them, he realized that there were only a handful of plots and those plots were coupled with a financial need for movie producers to pander to the tastes and comprehension abilities of the general population. Watching yet another in an endless series of predictable dramas or comedies was, for him, unbearable. After a while they all seemed the same.

And circling back to photography that might be exactly what I'm experiencing in the moment. The Been There, Done That, Seen That a Thousand Times realization. Now we love endless gray tones. But like all styles that one is ephemeral. Tomorrow we'll see someone's work pushing out high contrast images (Allan Schaller?) and we'll worship that for a few weeks before we slide off into some reveries about highly saturated colors which will give way to subdued pastels. And it's the same for subject matter. We'll always seem to have bandwidth for young, thin-ish, half naked female portraits or suggestive glamor-posing but all the rest of the subject matter just rotates over time through the greatest hits of the genres. Stark monochrome mountain-scapes which give way to close captured shots of random people on the streets which give way to overly constructed landscapes in subtle colors which give way to garish, direct in your face studio portraits. 

And then the vanishing hordes of old duffers like me wandering around with wonderful gear in a vain attempt to re-capture the magic we felt when taking photographs in our youth. Someone should write this as a play, or a soap opera for TV. Toss in a salacious murder, some twisted love affairs and.....Oh! What's that you say? It's already been done? Ah well. 

All I can manage to say for the photographic process now is that it gets one out of the house, moving one's feet, and feeling a small measure of solace to be around other humans who share a common appreciation of coffee; especially when savored in the midst of people marking time, looking at their phones or answering messages on their laptops. All packed together in coffee shops but all so isolated and alone.

And then, this morning, I discover that the new-ish refrigerator isn't cooling the refrigerator half properly. I'd better use up the milk before it spoils. 

How was the lens? and how was the camera?, you ask. Just fine. They worked just fine. But without a spark behind the process all the trappings of the craft are mostly rendered meaningless and banal. Proven by hundreds of millions of random images tossed into the ether every day. And the slightly stinging realization that I'm in no way special or removed from the wave of hollow content producers who accompany me, shoulder to shoulder. Hell bent on somehow feeling relevant. 

B. will be home in a few days. The refrigerator will be fixed under warranty. The laundry will get done. Already the photographers I have known personally are passing away and drifting away from common memory. One foot forward all is darkness. The future is unknowable. The future of photography is predictable. And bleak. But it's still a good excuse to get out of the house and walk the walk. At some point the walks will remain and the camera will become something we leave at home. Picking it up only when something tickles our memory reminding us about the way we used to consume the art we used to love. And the process we admired.

On my walk yesterday I ran into a gallery owner I've known for 40+ years. He only shows photography and represents people like Keith Carter and Jack Spencer. He's 78 years old and still working full time at the gallery. I used to see him walking through town with a Leica rangefinder over his shoulder. Now he just walks through town. We reminisced about the "good old days" when everyone was breathless about a new generation of print-making photographers. And corporations were decorating tall towers with gorgeous prints. Anybody want to buy an NFT? 

Well, that's a day. Here's my take:



Michael Matthews said...

Careful. The next step is sitting in a darkened room, listening to Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is?”.

Roland Tanglao said...

So you like the SL2 more than than the SL2-S? Seems like you like the colours better? I am torn: I plan on getting an SL2-S in my dotage :-) in a few years because of the IP rating and Vancouver temperate rain forest weather. But the SL2 has a GPS which I love (I know most normal photographers don't care about GPS so #ymmv And I also know you can get the GPS coordintates added automatically with the Leica app but I am a silly lover of built-in GPSes in cameras)!

JC said...

But here's the thing: most of what you see and read may be variations on a theme, but some of the variations are terrific. As good or better than the originals, if there is such a thing as originals. Robert Frank wasn't unique: go look at the drawings that Leonardo made in the streets -- much more powerful than Frank. As a more current example, "The Big Lebowski" is one of my favorite movies, but stripped of its details, right down to the plot, it's a 40's LA Noir movie. It's got the detective, the villains, the loose women, the corrupt cop, the evil "Chinaman." But the details astonish you. Just because we're not Robert Frank (and I don't even like him that much) doesn't mean we can't do amazing stuff.

adam said...

jeez, I know what you mean about the endless repepition, I've been finding japanese photography twitter to be a welcoming place with a lot of fairly cliched seeming but really great images, so far much less neurosis than some of the guys I was following before, but might also be that I don't speak the language

you can try pasting that into your search box if you want to take a look: #スナップ写真

also been enjoying this channel for a fairly non-hectic guy taking snaps with a gopro on:


otherwise I tend to find focusing on any kind of pleasure a useful antidote to thoughts that might be getting me down, I've been making an effort to find different angles etc when I'm out and about lately

adam said...

I've been enjoying this channel lately: guy with a gopro taking nice pics


I know what you mean about the endless repetition, I try and switch up the angles etc day by day, took a picture of two people dressed as a pig and a sheep trying to get into a nightclub this afternoon

karmagroovy said...

I woke up in a good mood until I read this post. ;-) I think your first shot of the Pontiac Bonneville perfectly encapsulates where we used to be and where we are now. From a fashion/art perspective there is really nothing that interesting to shoot on the street these days. People no longer dress up to go out to dinner. No one wears a suit and tie to go to work. Car design today is either a failed attempt at futurism or just plain jane functionalism. The new buildings downtown for the most part all look alike.

Have you thought about giving landscape photogaphy a go? hehehe. Maybe a trip to Yosemite where you can stand in the same spot with 20 others and do Ansel one better?

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Roland, while I like the SL2 the camera I keep mentioning is NOT the SL2-S but the original SL. The first one Leica came out with in 2015. 24 megapixels. Super rugged. Great finder. and available usually for around $2K USD, used. Love it. bought an extra.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Karmagroovy, Sorry to harsh your morning. But you'd want a blogger to express honest feelings from time to time instead of being relentlessly and boringly upbeat and cheery all the time; right?

And you're probably tired of reading about stuff from the old days.

What's Yosemite? Is that where large format users go to huddle together and discuss the Zone System? And Dagor lenses? And how to mix Pyro at home?

Thanks for cheering me up!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an honest view of reality.

Henry Beckmeyer said...

I really like the last shot of the rolled up carpets. So your “walk of desperation” was worth it…for me at least.

TMJ said...

I, absolutely, love those photos, and especially the first.

Oversteer, eight cylinder hemi, 420 BHP, what's not to love?

Roger Jones said...

Your right about all of it, sad but true. So why do we keep on trying? Why do we keep trying to reinvent the wheel? Was it our generation, and that's how we were raised?

Greed is the major fact, most people think they're entitled to whatever. I dealt with that a lot at the hospital day after day.

Your right, but I won't stop, why? It's all I know. I hope it gets better, I hope. I just need to sell all my gear (10 camera bodies digital and 10 lenses 7 film cameras with 7 lenses) and go to 1 Leica body and 3 lenses or my FP and 2 lenses.

The Nikon ZFc I pick up is very good, and cute, but feels cheap, although it is very retro looking that's the draw.

As for the photographers I know, knew, they've all passed away now. The new one's I meet are "skippies" wanna be's. If you gave one of them a film camera they have no clue how to load the film. What's great about film you have to take your time, with digital dust you just point and click.

Well you started it..............Hahahhahahahahah it's all good, time for a run, and weights, or laying on the couch watching old movies, and watching it snow. Maybe both. Yes, it's been snowing here in Portland Oregon for the last 4-5 days. Climate change you know. Back home on the mountain where I'm from 90 miles southeast of LA the family house has 8 feet of snow, sweet. I hope my old darkroom is ok.

Smile it gets better :))

MikeR said...

B. needs to come home soon! In a Fresh Air interview, Bruce Springsteen said, "I'm not my own best company."

A sentence I picked up many decades ago that has served as a useful reminder to myself, "All comparisons are invidious."


Jon Maxim said...

Geez Kirk! What happened? Have I just appeared in an alternate universe? Thank God I have GAS to keep me warm - always something new (however useless) to discover.

Could it possibly be the absence of B in your life?

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

I think it's the damn black and white. Always seems depressing to me.... I'll switch over today and try some color. Oh, and I am a bit happier as I think I fixed the fridge. We'll see.

crsantin said...

I'm always mildly miserable when my wife is away for business. I tend to stay home until she returns which I didn't realize until my youngest son pointed it out to me. We're all there and yes the future of photography is finite. I don't think it's something people will be doing a hundred years from now, even sooner probably. Technology will morph it into some other endeavour. But I will keep photographing for the rest of my life, using cameras that I find exciting and inspiring. My photography now is mostly family portraits and moments. I have a granddaughter and I photograph her endlessly, she's growing so fast as she approaches her first birthday. And I photograph my wife when she lets me and our weekend trips together. I'm not trying to make art. I enjoy street photography but I don't do it with enough frequency or passion to get very good at it. From time to time I get lucky and take an interesting shot. I don't worry about it, it will become what it becomes and my own photography will find the path that it needs to. Enjoy the ride, it's a short one.

Rene said...

As they say, "Been there, done that" with the feelings of the uselessness of my photography. After an intensive two decades of local and regional "shows" and galleries, I felt I was just being boring and repetitious in my work which at the time was mostly landscapes, macros and not so wild animals. A debilitating injury gave (forced) me time to pause and rethink what I was doing. In thinking about my photography, I realized I no longer had a purpose for what I was doing and that I needed to find that again. I needed to feel my photography was helping someone/something. Once I did that, the enjoyment and desire returned. Your YMMV. Thanks for an eloquent piece on the struggles we all face.

Jeff said...

I think we’re somewhere in the middle of the transformation of traditional photography to something digital. Back in the days of film there was a time investment required to learn photography. Walking around with your 35mm camera was at least a tiny bit cool.

Now my 4 year old granddaughter is an iPhone expert, and with AI generators you won’t even need iPhones to “take” photos and photoshop them to death and add them to the daily billions of images that are spewed out.

I have no idea where photography will settle out but I think that there will be some form of imaging to enjoy in the future.
Maybe a little ennui in the meantime isn't a totally bad thing.

EdPledger said...

That Bonneville brings back memories as my family had a 55 then a 61 Pontiac. Think 5-6 yrs was not atypical lifespan for those cars. Currently driving a 25 yr old Toyota pickup with another 100k miles to look forward to. Movies….don’t go often enough to know if anything is worth a poot, but thought Memento was excellent back in early 2000s, and one of my favorites was The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Loved the story and photography in Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. And Marcel Pagnol’s novels.

jw52tx said...

Stephen is a true Austin treasure! I wish you'd taken photo of him!I miss so many of the great things he made happen in Austin. Back When........

Gary said...

Ah, yes--who are they for? I have concluded that the photos are less important than the seeing and the process of creation.

Derek S said...

The King is dead, long live the King. There's a time to dwell and a time to let go. Now move on Kirk. Buy a new fridge. Plan something nice for B's return.

Miguel Tejada-Flores said...

Being a writer by both profession and inclination and other obsessive reasons, I can relate to the been there, done that-ness of ... well, not of photos per se but of so many words, so many articles and books and... yeah, I know what you mean.

But the other side of the coin, the good news, so to speak, both with regards to images and to words, is that... every once in awhile, one finds or stumbles across some really outstanding or brilliant or surprising or (pick the adjective of your choice) ones which somehow just immediately worm their way under or through or around your or my (since I'm talking about myself) layers of defenses or cynicism or, you know. I'm fortunate enough to be reading a book right now who's author continually uses words in ways that get me, and pull me in. So there's rays of light amidst all the dark smog or pollution which covers so much.

And speaking of images, among the hundreds or thousands or who the hell really knows how many that I see or look at or go by and disappear, two of the ones you posted stand out and are still somehow coming back to my mind's eye or whatever one calls it. The ones of graffitied signs in front of passing trains. I like them both but the wider angle, which shows the bicycle icon sign as well is... it really got me. One great photograph. Just seeing it, made my day. So many thanks Kirk. Because whatever 'it' is... you've got it, maestro. Please don't stop.

Robert Roaldi said...

Movies may be a bit like food. Avoid the overly processed corporate crap. They're easy to spot. Tasteless bad-for-you food was made in a factory and packaged frozen in a box. Movies are the same except they're also accompanied by really annoying trailers that appeal to 14 year olds who think they invented self-referential irony.

Try watching (or re-watching) Secrets and Lies (1996 written by Mike Leigh; British) for some riveting human drama. It even has some scenes set in a photographer's studio, so that's a bonus.

Chuck Albertson said...

That's quite a land yacht in the lead photo.

And Roland, the SL2 doesn't have on-board GPS - only the SL.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks for the tech info about the Leicas Chuck.

I agree that's quite a "land yacht" in the first photo but my all time favorite "living room on wheels" has to have been the late 1960's Buick Electra. What an amazing feat of automotive excess. But so much fun to float around in...

Timo Lindman said...

Well, maybe mix it up, head over to BookPeople; when I was there Friday night they had a few copy's of Rick Rubin's "The Creative Act: A Way of Being" in stock. I really enjoyed tucking into it on an airplane home Sunday; some of the thoughts about observation and being receptive to creativity as a process seem to fit in here.

Roland Tanglao said...

thanks for clearing up my confusion on the GPS, Chuck and Kirk! Super great! Should have googled it! Anyhow i think i (some day) want an SL2-S or an SL2 simply because of the IP rating. Sadly as you have all commented, there is no GPS in the SL2 or SL2-S but again most people don't care :-)

Bill S. said...

Good post. I share your sense of ennui (sounds better in French.) I'm old enough to not be too concerned about the future of photography, it will take care of itself. I just do my passé thing and the executor will cleanup after me.

Joe said...

Ah! Nothing wrong with Dagors, large format film cameras, and mixing Pyro at home. That workflow definitely can up the tonal quality, which isn’t everything but nice to have. Semi-necessary even though not sufficient for optimum BW image quality.

Recently, I looked at the best possible digital BW prints from a nationally-known master printer and they’re still just not up to the standard of top-notch prints from negatives. The difference would probably not be noticeable online but is definitely better when big prints are viewed in person.

For that reason, I have reverted in part from all digital to a mix including large format, to again use at least some processes that retain challenges to overcome.

Ennui isn’t in short supply these days wherever one goes. Perhaps our lives are becoming too comfortable and predictable. Without challenges, life can become tedious.

Unknown said...

Your comments re "it's all been done /said before" resonated with me. I find myself wondering why I bother shooting anymore, and what value the resulting images have. Most photography now gets seen on minuscule screens with bad colour correction. The difference in skill and craft between what I do and someone who picks up a current beginner camera or even an Iphone is certainly not observable by most. We are all drowning in a flood of mediocrity, of narcissistic snapshots and trite landscapes, as (ephemeral) attention moves on to other eye candy. I try my best to create a semblance of art - and occasionally think I might succeed. But even then, it's not ground breaking (obviously). It's all been done before. And what does it add to human experience - really nothing.

Photography, as I knew and loved it, is dying I think. It's strange being left behind as society moves on. But that's what aging is, I suppose?

Caleb Courteau said...

While style does get endlessly recycled, the content of photographs is often unavoidably unique.

Your photo of your wife, then girlfriend, holding the keyboard is a great example. She is a unique person, captured at a specific time in her life that is gone forever. Has another photographer taken a portrait with similar lighting and composition? Sure, but that photographer never took a photo of HER.

Photographs and video are the only time machines created by man, and will forever remain relevant.