Productive Photographically in These Pandemic Times

This pandemic has certainly caused a major disruption in the lives of photographers. I’ve heard many say that it has stifled all creativity, there’s just nothing to shoot.

Sure, there were the photo essays on the pandemic, and people social distancing, masking up, etc. But after that, what’s left?

What’s wrong with me? I’ve had the opposite response. I started a couple of photo projects–my bus stop series and my alley series. And then I started going out with the 4×5 camera, a camera that I’ve for years struggled to use because I couldn’t find subjects “worthy” of the big negative. Other photographer were showing me photos made with 4×5 and 8×10, and I was sitting there, still looking for a “good subject”.

Need makes things happen. I just needed an assignment. A requirement. A deadline.

I went out daily to get four photographs with a Wista 45DX I had just picked up at a local yard sale, or an Ebony SW45, or a press camera, and just four sheets of black and white film, usually Bergger Panchro 400 but sometimes Kodak Tmax 400 and Arista EDU 400. Just four sheets because that’s how many fit inside my SP445 developing tank. My partner, MaryLee would say every morning as I went out–“Wajda, get me four!” in an authoritative boss voice. And I would. Most days.

Going out to get four helped me meet Dave, an 88-year-old who fixes and collects Ford Model T’s and is going to take me for a ride in one. That’s the other magic of the big camera–the people it introduces you to that you would never have met otherwise.

There were occasional days where I didn’t find anything that caught my eye. My plan was to just go out, wander, with the camera and film and see if anything does. The showing up, the going, was my job. Being ready was all it took. Looking. Watching. Seeking. But not forcing.

Now, several weeks later, I have over 70 photographs in the series, some of which will be used in a gallery exhibition in 2021. 70 photographs I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where they came from. They just showed up. When I needed them. When I was seeking subjects.

You can see them at this link. They look best printed and in a frame. Second best on a big monitor. Most of all, you can see my progression, from inanimate objects and locations, to people. And more people. I am a photojournalist after all. I seek people stories.

When you need four photographs, you find four photographs.

It’s the old line, “The muse exists, but she has to find you working.”

Some days I would come home with none. Those days never felt like failures, because I had shown up, and nothing had made me ‘shoot just to shoot something’.

But most days, when out looking, something caught my eye. And still to this day, everyday I go back out. Looking. Seeing what will show up in front of my big wooden camera.

Add in the connection with people as I gift them a framed, signed print of their portrait, that is priceless. “Impossible during the pandemic,” you say?

“If you try sometime, you find, you get what you need.”

I believe that. If you go out, and do the work, whether that’s sitting down with a pen and paper to write, a sketch pad and pencil to draw, or using a large wooden 4×5 film camera to make photographs, the key is showing up. The ideas will then come. Until we show up, they can’t.

The how is you and me, ready to create. The what will show up when we do.

I rounded a corner in my town late in the afternoon after dropping off Dave’s Model T garage photo, and expecting nothing to be made that day, I saw these four outside the local tattoo shop and knew I had to stop. One photograph later, I ended up delivering four framed, signed photographs to them.

It’s impossible to ‘work today on your career’. It’s impossible to ‘work today to get famous’. Blogging and posting on social media isn’t doing the work. Creating new content, that’s the work.

It’s impossible to do anything but the work. Do the work. The rest has to happen as a result of the work.

The people I meet, I have no idea what their connection may lead me to, nor do I put any expectations that it will lead to anything, but I know I’m meeting some incredible people and I’m making work that exists, and that’s all I can do. I see the work as I hand it to them. They may show the work to others. That’s incredibly fulfilling to me. My work in their homes, my work created that now exists only because I went out, looking for four.

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