The Situation (Hold Please)

I’m sitting in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales after taking the first half of the day to get here. A walk, taxi, train, car and short walk. In tow were my three Tenba bags including my roller bag, large backpack and small backpack. I’m not trying to sell you a Tenba bag, but as you can see, I use them. . But why do I have them, and why would I want to navigate the world with so much stuff?
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Great question, and one that I ask myself on a daily basis.

How much easier would it have been to get up this morning with a Fuji XT-1, one lens, or even two, my laptop and drive and make the same journey? As many of you know, I contracted Lyme Disease a little over a year ago, and all I can tell you is that everyday is a challenge. Still, all these days later. I simply don’t have the energy I used to have, and when I hit the wall I hit it for real.

So fifty yards from where I sit writing this, in my room, is my Hasselblad with two lenses, Leica with two lenses, Polaroid and Canon 5D-III with three lenses. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it all fits in my roller bag, including all the film required, model releases, cables, bellows, card reader, extra batteries, medicine (a lot), light meter, hoods, pens, plastic bags, etc., etc. This is my standard rig. Inside my large backpack is a Zoom H6 audio recorder, two mini tripods, two microphones, XLR cables, etc., etc. And yes, people think I’m crazy. Perhaps I am.

But if any of you have seen my new site Shifter you will know that I use all of these things on a regular basis. In fact I have entire campaigns based on these materials.

So today my feeble mind wanders and wonders. I know there is no way around having all this stuff. I could swap the Canon for the Fuji, which would save a fair amount of weight, and I’m seriously considering doing this. I rarely use the digital but when I need it, like last night at TEDx Sydney, I need it.

It’s funny. I’ve had these conversations with myself many, many times. Games I play. Remember a few things. Working with a film camera verses working with a digital camera are as different an experience as you can have. I don’t believe someone swaps and then makes the same work. That just doesn’t happen, and I’ve got fifteen years of examples of photographers I know who USED to be great but suddenly became very average when they picked up a digital camera. This is another conversation I’ve had countless times over the past decade, always in private because photographers are fearful the “public” will hear them bashing well known photographers who haven’t made a decent image since picking up a digital camera.

I actually don’t think this has to be the reality. I think we have to learn how to use each camera for what it is, and be vigilant in our attention to detail. A Fuji with Nik filters don’t make TRI-X no matter how bad you want it. But maybe you don’t need TRI-X? Why try to make it something it really isn’t? Digital is immediate, endless and flexible far beyond anything in analog history. I think a lot of photographer who declined with digital did so because they were ready to taper off anyway. It’s about laziness, years of busting ass, and also we all love new shit. That’s a fact. Compound this with the reality that many well known folks are surrounded by people who are telling them they are great, so when they show subpar work they are still getting “Oh man, you are AWESOME,” and most of the time they think “Wow, I must be awesome.”

I just put down this laptop and shot four frames with the M6 and 50mm. f/2 at 1/8th. I KNOW this image will be fantastic. I had a foreground, midground and then the subject with window light coming from the left. A classroom of people. Very quiet. This is Leica territory.

And then there is the lifestyle of digital. Computer, computer and more computer. I think maybe this is the part that really has me cringing. Now if I was GOOD on the computer perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way, but I’m not so I do. I will shoot at least ten times over the next days days, here in Australia, and don’t need to edit any of it. No computer required. I will ship the film the day I return and then board another flight to another location.

Not sure why I wrote this, but this scenario has been on my mind today. Two hours in a train to think and wonder. I want the digital to work. At least a part of me. But I have a sinking suspicion I’ll be humping this kit until I pass out or get robbed. I have a sinking suspicion I’ll be adding a Fuji to my lineup once again, probably replacing the Canon, but I don’t see anything replacing the Blad, Leica and Polaroid anytime soon.

New Site New Direction

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“What are you going to do with Smogranch?”

Don’t know. Probably very little. You see I have a new site. Shifter.

A “shifter” is someone who shifts our perspective on someone or something. I realized I was spending a lot of time with these people. Photographing them, interviewing as well.

They are far more interesting than me, which was the realization I needed to explore a new route. A new site. A new life perhaps.

Ladies and gentleman, this site is work in progress and came about only in the past few weeks. Somehow the lunatics at Coffee and Magic were able to pull this together in a very short amount of time. I was little help.

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In some odd way this site is a complication of many of the thing I was told not to do. Shocking I know. About 99% black and white. No video. Audio interviews. Long form essay. And no social media. Want to follow this site, gotta RSS this baby otherwise you will never hear me or see me. I actually created a Twitter account and then realized I would die if I went down that road.

As you can see, there are several categories such as “Believe,” “Found,” “Just Listen,” even the “Dispatches” I’ve been shooting for Blurb. My interview and audio skills are puny but are slowly getting better.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this, but I can assure you I will enjoy the ride.

Poetry and Photography

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OVERHEARD CONVERSATION:

“Maybe real photography is becoming more like poetry,” he said.

“Most people write poems because they need to write something, not for commercial gain.”

“THAT, my friend, is a very interesting thought” the other said. “But where we are going to get killed is the “real” photography description,” I added. “There are so many people running around with digital cameras and websites who are now attempting to work as professionals.” “I don’t see that as “real” photography,” he added. “It’s content, but not to say it isn’t happening or going away anytime soon.” “In fact,” he said. “I think it is only going to increase in volume.”

“I don’t consider this situation as a bad thing,” one said. “Maybe we will get back to personal, thoughtful, solid work.”

“It’s not bad unless you are trying to make a living,” the other said. “True,” I answered.

Over the past few weeks I’ve, once again, come to the conclusion I don’t really have time to be a photographer.(Cue the broken record and violin.) Yes, I’m working as a photographer once again, at least in part, but it’s not documentary work in the classic sense. What I do now is documentary photography in the modern sense, which is limited time, maximum need. I shoot, record, write, print, design and publish, all in a very short amount of time. When I walk from a shoot today I am always left yearning for “what could have been” given more time.

It’s easy to dismiss this with “Well, what are you gonna do, that’s just the way it is.” Man do I detest this mentality. It’s like when photographers say to me, “I hate digital but that’s what my clients are asking for,” or whenever someone who dedicated their entire adult life to photography caves in to the idiotic demands of someone with little to no stake in the game. You HAVE to fight for what you need as an artist/photographer or whatever you call yourself. You HAVE to establish ground rules, and if they are not there then WALK AWAY.

So I’ve made a change. My current project, which I’ve written about here is entirely stalled. Why? Because I just don’t have the time. This work is fact based, unstructured by me, so I need to be in the field on a regular basis, going back to the same people and places, over and over again. And I have to be there when things are happening and when the light is right. Just don’t have the time. However, this past week I showed this magazine to a variety of people here in Santa Fe and got a variety of positive feedback. I took a good look at the contents and realized there was something there. Just coals, no fire. Smoldering. Waiting for photographic oxygen to give life.

So what I’m going to do is go back in time. When I first started this photography thing it was far more like poetry than a novel. I was content to venture forth in the world looking for ANYTHING resembling a great photograph. Not everything was project based. My work was really just life based. Whether I found myself in country, city or in between I was looking, hunting for singles. As I got better, and as I learned and refined, I began to understand my brain works in sequence, but life and my brain don’t always coincide.

This new/old way of working isn’t easier than long-form work, in fact in might be even more difficult because the truth is those rare, stand alone images are SO very difficult to find. Almost impossible. It can also be frustrating when you look down and the frame counter is on seven and that same roll of film has been in the camera for four weeks.

A friend here in town, wonderful person and good photographer and teacher told me she took three weeks off, traveling to a foreign land by herself and just worked, every single day for three weeks. Alone, focused. Perhaps a day or two off during the trip. Recoup. Rethink. Take notes. “I realized I need this a few times a year to really reengage with what I’m doing,” she said. “I can’t do multiple things simultaneously all the time.”

Now I’m fortunate because I’m a twenty-year journaling addict. I have a home for WHATEVER I shoot. This is a crutch of epic proportion because when you print something and paste it in a book, whatever it is it FEELS really good. Like my color square work. It FEELS like it’s good even when it’s not. These books are like my own private support system.
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The plan is this. Just shoot. Black and white, 35mm. Process myself, scan myself and print myself. (Except for journal prints.) Now, I can’t do this for my Blurb shoots. That film goes to the lab for processing, proofing and scanning, and I’m totally okay with that. But for the rest of my photo-life I’m going to return to the absolute basics. Oh, and no more color square.

I’m looking forward to a little poetry, and even thinking about this has forced me to recollect a variety of images I’ve made that are stand along images not belonging to any body of work, things I never did anything with for this exact reason. Now I have something to do. Write poetry, or attempt to take poetry. I’ve also got a head start on this because of my leap into sketching and painting. In the six months or so since I’ve thrown my hat in this ring I’ve made exactly ONE painting I like. ONE. Cue the action movie scene, “Failure is not an option,” only with me it IS AN OPTION AND ONE I’VE FULLY EXPLORED.

So in a way….I’m single again. Get it? Single? I’m here all week. Now, I just thought of something. This does NOT mean I am suddenly a “street” photographer. I’m not. Not even close. I actually don’t really like the vast majority of street photography I see because it looks detached. Now this is the point for some of it, I get it, but it’s just not my thing. I’m still going to put myself in places I feel images are living, breathing, waiting, but not random street stuff. Besides, I suck at those images anyway.