I have a difficult time making photographs sometimes. It’s because I know what I want a photograph to do, how I want it to look composition-ally, or story-wise, or just the right light. And when those don’t come together in some combination, I don’t fire the shutter.
It just sits, idle, waiting.
I’m reading a book about the beauty of everything, and I believe what it is saying–that there is inherent beauty in everything. Not just the things we’ve been told are beautiful. Things that have been drilled into us–“This here is beautiful.”
But how do you un-see and how do you un-know what you do see and do know?
If I look at a Walker Evans photograph, like this one, “Negroes’ Church, South Carolina, 1936″, he didn’t wait for the light to be early in the day or late in the evening. Or people to be entering or exiting. He was documenting the church when he was passing it. The very act of him photographing it creates the picture’s importance, and why we’re still looking at it 80+ years later.
There’s beauty in the act of framing the photograph. And there’s beauty in the ordinary, the mundane, the regular stuff.
I went on a photo walk recently with a photographer friend to a rural town heading east called Platteville, and we each brought old film cameras. I was shooting a Mamiya C330S with a wide-angle 55mm lens and Kodak Ektar film (expired 2011, shot at box speed). The very act of shooting it made me look for subjects to shoot, and so I was able to find them.
There is something to putting the frame up and seeking a photograph. There is something to being on a time frame–the photo walk starts now and goes til dusk when we’ll stop and then get a beer.
Structure, deadlines, they make things happen. If I weren’t on the lookout for these images, I wouldn’t have seen them and wouldn’t have stopped to make them.
It’s an incredibly important part of the creative process–to show up. To schedule time for the muse to join us and work to create.
And in a world where technology seems to value the quick and instant ability to share phone snaps, there was a real specialness to shooting these 12 frames, and then sending the film off to be processed and waiting for the results. Having the thrill of seeing the photographs once they were finished and I had stepped away from them.
To see them with fresh eyes.
To have had time to play with color. To seek out compositions. As a photographer who often gets asked what’s the best way to learn to make photographs, I say, go out and make photographs. Work to create pictures in a set time frame and you and the muse, play.
Photography is a wonderful art. It allows us to stop time so we can revisit it later. To go back to that Negros’ church in 1936. To visit Platteville in 2019. And to document our lives and the lives of our families and friends so that we will always be able to go back and savor those times.
But we’re not limited to these images. We can photograph small details. Little things that we think of when we think of someone. The way they hang their coat on a chair. The indentation on their pillow after they get up in the morning.
We just have to see that there’s beauty surrounding us. And not to wait for the only moments we’ve been conditioned to see.