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: