I am very happy with my photography. I have studied the craft for a few years now and I have grown very confident in my technical, and more importantly, creative skills. Still, I am not one to be happy and satisfied at the same time. I always feel like there should be room to improve and it was exactly because of this, that I have grown critical of my own style of photography.
I really felt like I should keep pushing my progress if I aspired to be at least above average.
Pushing for progress
The trouble came when I had difficulty defining what my own style in photography exactly was, or rather, should be. In recent months I slowly started to shoot more portraits and lifestyle stuff, which I really enjoy doing. As a matter of fact, I remember when everything I do now was just a vague idea in my head of where I wanted to take my photography next. This realization reaffirmed my confidence in that the next vague idea of direction I probably would develop, was to be explored. I really felt like I should keep pushing my progress if I aspired to be at least above average.
Consequently, I developed a modest interest in analog photography and the specific look of it. By this I am not referring to the way the colours and contrast in a photo have that film like quality that everybody seems to enjoy (myself included, I process my digital photography with a very analog mindset). Rather, I was growing interest in the subjects I saw a lot of people shooting, usually using a very raw and unpolished approach.
The experience has been extremely liberating
The qualities of film
To illustrate, a well known complaint by photographers is that people tend to shoot a photo on film, only to claim it was a good photograph because it was shot on film and without any regard for subject matter and technical quality. It’s like being able to create a well exposed shot with an analog camera, where there is no digital preview and not a lot of chances to reshoot until it’s right, is sufficient for it to be a ‘good photograph’. While I do agree that good photography does not come from being able to create a well exposed photo alone, this ‘inconsiderate’ style of shooting some people exercise did spark an idea with me.
This is when I picked up an analog camera just to shoot things that I normally would not. I would look for angles I would not look for with my digital camera and I would try to basically fool myself into believing that any redundant detail I’d point my lens on would make for a good photo because well; I’m shooting on film. The experience has been extremely liberating. While I still enjoy crafting imagery with great precision; intentionally trying to shoot subjects I would normally skip, has brought a few new perspectives and ideas to me. I could now use these new found perspectives and ideas as handles to start building other ideas of what is possible through photography.
As a bonus, the added incubation effect of waiting for the development of your film reinforces this experience. It creates a disconnection between the moment of shooting and the first proper viewing of the final photograph, allowing you to look at your own work as if it’s someone else’s while still retaining exact knowhow of moment you took the shot. This way, shooting film has allowed me to understand my process in the moment I took the shot, while at the same time making me able to define certain characteristics that I liked and didn’t like in the final product. If you combine this with the idea of purposefully shooting different subjects, you create an experience that’s bound to give you some unfamiliar results.
While reviewing my shots, I was actually quite pleased with some of the results. Especially the black & white of the Kodak Tri-X 400 had delivered some photos I was satisfied with. Still, I had a lot of photos that I completely missed focus on because I got the camera settings wrong. I don’t really mind though, since the out of focus subjects, combined with the grain en colour of the Kodak Gold 200 film, do make for an image to my liking and thereby exactly proving my point.
To conclude, I shot a lot of photos of usually uninteresting subjects that I am now trying to see some kind of beauty in. While I still don’t believe that the fact that they are shot on film make them any better photographs, the intentional adaption of this mindset has served its purpose well. The challenge has always been to shoot these ‘bad photos’ and now forcing myself to recognize some element in them that I like, has really pushed me to start appreciating photography in another way. That being said, I believe there is some kind of beauty hidden in the ugliest things and when you are able to find that beauty, you can try and incorporate that into your other work to start making that even more beautiful.