Mamiya M645 // Ilford HP5+
After months of being fairly happy with individual photos I was taking, but not with my overall so called 'work', it hit me recently that I was shooting what I thought I was supposed to be shooting (e.g. everyday scenes, plants etc). I was shooting things that moved me in person, but that didn’t translate into moving me when I was behind the lens, or when I looked at them later. I thought I should be shooting things I was seeing everyday, because I was someone who was often moved by the beauty surrounding me.
If I was at a park, I had to shoot flowers. If I had baked something, I had to photograph it.If I was at the market, I had to photograph the vegetables. I had to show something for my time spent somewhere, and I had to show what I'd found pretty. In my mind, a photographer was someone who shot what they saw.
Around me, everyone was taking photos of their daily life and that was what had drawn me to photography in the first place, so I had to keep doing it. That was expected of me and I was expecting it of myself. But doing so rarely felt right. Sometimes, I liked those photos, but more often than not, I didn’t. They were less than stellar. The viewers probably could feel that I didn’t feel as moved by them as I should, or as other people would. I’d started shooting those for fun and because I didn’t have anything else available around me, so I thought those were my kind of shots.
Not shooting those scenes made me feel like I wasn’t much of a photographer, but if I did, I felt inadequate when people asked me what I photographed and I gave them that answer: just what’s around me, everyday objects and scenes. I also always stated it that way, with the ‘just’ added to highlight that it wasn’t good or important (it wasn't), or worse, that I didn’t know what I was doing. I had technical knowledge, but no real way to express it. I knew what I was doing, more so than the average person because I thought about technical matters and composition before shooting, but I still wasn’t shooting what really mattered to me.
Sometimes people exclaimed, this is so pretty or unusual, you should take a picture! Sometimes, to convince me to go somewhere, my friends would say, you can take photos there. I was surprised that people didn’t seem to know what my photography was about or where my interests lied. I didn't take photos of just anything, and I wasn't desperate. I would feel offended because I wasn’t a snapshot type of person. My photos were more than that, I wasn’t the person wielding an iPhone or a made-for-hipsters camera to take ‘snaps’. Except that in a way, I was. It wasn’t clear in my head what I was doing, or what I wanted or liked to shoot. So if I didn’t know it and didn’t tell people, how could they know what kind of photographer I was?
All that time, I wanted to shoot portraits and I wanted to show people making things, and doing things. I wanted to make portraits of people working on art, or people posing, but not in a high fashion way. I figured out that I loved portraits more than anything, whether moving or still during a concert at which I shot black and white film. For the first time, I thought, this is what I want to be doing, this is what I’m meant to be doing. I had never felt happier with a camera in my hand.
Don't get me wrong, I do like taking snapshots of my daily life once in while, and always enjoy taking or seeing photos of food and drinks. One of my favorite photos is one of a glass of vodka on a bar table. It’s black and white, and it looks isolated from the hustle and bustle of the bar. I like adding a human element when possible, but those types of photos are enjoyable. I would also love to take more interior shots, especially if they were part of a series about a person’s space. But I don't want to be shooting only those. I want those to be the rare exception rather than the norm. They're just not what I'm inspired by anymore. And now, I'm making portraits and photographing artists, and a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders, that I'd put there myself.