Photographing the Familiar: How the Covid-19 Lockdown Changed My Photographic Approach
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Please Note: This is my first and hopefully dullest entry to this blog. Bare with me as I grow this thing and hopefully the content becomes increasingly more interesting and legible.
Other than finally getting around to reading Spot the Dog, one of the few minor positive outcomes for me personally from these last few months has been the opportunity to reflect on my photographic approach and how I'd like to proceed moving forward as I continue my journey from being a "meh" enthusiast to reaching a "professional" standard.
I've been a competent blond photographer for around 8 years or so now. By competent, I mean I could take a reasonably decent photo on a digital camera - nothing extraordinary, just satisfactory at best. By blond, I mean blond with a hint of rustic rural charm. Up until recently I hadn't been particularly driven to create artistic images or develop a skillset aligned with that of a professional or an instagram hashtagging globetrotter. However, as my frustrations grew with the more collaborative necessities of filmmaking and, to be frank, the state of our world at large, I've been feeling more connected and engrossed in photography as a means to remain creatively stimulated and to escape into my own inner meditative state.
I had enjoyed photography in the past but it had never been a priority of mine and at times it always seemed a little laboured, like coal mining. This was partly because early on I was coupling it with videography (yawn) for small freelance jobs, so like many third world children, I never had a dedicated photography camera. That and the digital aesthetic to many of my images left me feeling indifferent to the results. I know that's a very typical hipster outlook to have on the digital form but it's how I feel. Couple it with being a bit of a technophobe (I said techno!) and it seemed destined that I was not going to develop an obsessive and unhealthy enthusiasm for digital photography.
That typically changed when I was introduced to the world of film photography. It's a very typical boy meets film camera love story: film camera tricks boy into thinking it'll be difficult, boy discovers it's actually really easy to shoot film and he begins to thoroughly enjoy the slower process especially when the images are vastly more aesthetically pleasing thanks to the grain the labs inject via film surgery (I'm pretty sure that's how it works), and then BAM, boy disregards film camera and buys better variations and models.
I believe this has been the standard process for a lot of photographers that have made the switch to film. It's a far more of an organic process that matches well with my creative needs and personality. It became evident that I had been approaching photography from a technical aspect instead of an artistic one and that's where my failings had been within the results I was achieving. I needed to change this approach because I was still utilising it within my film photography, even though I was enjoying "the process" (expect to hear that several times in my posts) a lot more.
So, the pandemic begins are we're in a state of "oh my god, we're all going to die due to the incompetence of our leaders!," I mean, lockdown (still am). I'm on very familiar terrain and exceedingly lucky that I happened to be living on my parents' farm in rural Wales. It's a farm that I grew up on and have photographed endlessly in prior years. To my mind, I had exhausted my photography output there. I had seen it all, photographed it all. It was just not interesting to me to document again. Oh, the woes.
Here are a few examples of glossy digital photos I've taken on the farm over the years:
Can you identify a theme, yet? ...In all honesty, the majority of the photos I have show too much of the farm and I'm very reluctant to share them with strangers.
Further context to my lockdown: I had just had a short film I was set to direct and a feature doc I was co-producing delayed indefinitely and I really was looking for that creative outlet, so other than writing (yawn, again), developing my photography skillset seemed the best way forward, especially since I may need to freelance post-lockdown, especially given the extent of the recession and job landscape.
I did all the soul searching and reflecting on how I was an "incompetent person" and how I wanted to truly progress and push the artistic aspect of my photography and challenge myself to use my creative, mental and environmental limitations to some twisted advantage. I purchased a half-frame camera (I'll review it on a future post - it's pretty immaterial for this post) in order to save money (in theory) as I'd be focusing on creating diptychs. I'd been flirting with buying one for a while and had finally convinced myself that the bank was no place for my savings to live.
Diptychs as an artistic presentation appealed to me because it would force me to think far more carefully about the successive frame of film and how best to marry two shots together beyond asking them to declare "I do." It helped me place a greater emphasis on pattern, texture, colour and form, as well as providing me with a relatively niche artistic style in an already congested field of 35mm film photographers in the world - should I decide to develop that style further on my journey as a photographer. Besides, at that moment, I had no idea if the camera truly worked, so really it was all about training my artistic eye, trust my light meter app and hope for the best.
I was pretty thrilled with the results and the process was not only really fun but helped me create a body of images that I hadn't thought were possible in a space that I truly believed I had photographed everything to death. I swear, slowing down and being more deliberate in my shooting has really helped. The quality of images isn't the best but I know that will come as I use the camera moving forward. Utilising the diptych approach not only has stopped me from saying that word too quickly but is helping link the side of cinematography, and to a degree my director's eye (what the next shot should reflect etc), that I love so much and have already developed through filmmaking and Government loans.
But I can't recommend enough just taking the time to experiment and pedal back from the technical side of photography and find enjoyment in the creative side of the art form because photography is exactly that, art. I think that often gets too easily overlooked.
Anyway, I'll talk more about cameras, half-frame diptychs, film stocks etc. as the blog grows. This particular exercise has really helped my confidence grow and now I know that the camera actually works I've already started shooting for my first zine which I will announce soon.
Hope you're all staying safe.