Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why photography is a struggle

I wrote in the last post about Josh Waitzkin's book I was reading, and as I read into it I began to see why photography, despite being a personal passion for nearly 40 years, was a struggle to understand and do well. While I can be a good photographer for short periods, it's a struggle to be consistent and become a better photographer despite serious efforts to learn and work. I still can't fully describe it, but I'll work around the edges and hopefully find a way into the center of the argument and problem.

And so why? We all know there are endeavors we love but just can't quite seem to grasp. When I was young I played Little League baseball for 2+ years before advancing to Babe Ruth League. In Little League I was good enough to make alternate on the all-star team to represent Germany in the European Little League series my last year when our city league won the championship for all-Germany. But I failed badly in Babe Ruth league because I was too small and in over my head.

Anyway, I liked baseball, but despite the odds it wasn't meant to be no matter how hard I tried. And life went on. When I was 19 in the Air Force I bought a camera and two lenses - I stll have the camera and normal lens, a Minolta SRT-101 with a 58mm f1.2 lens. I discovered I took good photos, as some said, I had the beginnings of a "good eye." This means you have some innate sense of composition, a natural sense to see a good photo, similar to artists who see the painting or sculpture from a blank canvas or block of material.

I did pursue it to learn photography then when I took some courses and worked part-time in a photo lab on the Air Force base where I was stationed in California. And life went on. After the Air Force I used the GI Bill to get a BA and MS degree and joined the USGS. I retired in December 2005 to return to my original passion. And while my Minolta system has expanded greatly beyond that one camera, and I've added both a digital and 4x5 camera system, photography is still a struggle.

So why after almost 40 years it's still struggle? And after a year and a half in retirement focusing on photography I have answers? Sorta' as the saying goes. For one, I've spent the last five or so years reading about photography and the last year-plus with my computer learning the tools to produce images and prints. And through it I learned what I like and don't like about photography. And where the holes and flaws are hidden.

I can write about my shortcomings on the technical side of photography, some of which is true - like being color blind - but mostly the whole things come down to what I like to do in and with my photography. I like to keep things simple, minimize the work to get a decent image and print. I prefer to focus on the field side of the work, while I'm standing behind the camera. Sitting in front of a computer all day simply wears the brains cells into being numb.

Mostly I realized while I have an eye for composition, it's my eye and my composition. It's not others' eye or composition, but it boils down to what's comfortable. I don't wander much outside it and it's the biggest hole and flaw in my work. The simple fear of trying, being new and failure. But then I realize photography is 99% failure no matter what you do, and the best is to produce good images with the occasional really good one.

So it finally gets down to intention. For intention is what keeps motivation going, and passion is the fuel. It's what Josh Waitzkin is talking about, pure and simple.

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