h o t o g r a p h y  &  R e f l e c t i o n

Taking photos hasn’t made a lot of sense for me. Dane Sanders, author of a number of help books for photographers, says in “Fast Track Photographer” that one must know oneself first before knowing oneself as a photographer. Any knowing of myself has been through writing, not images. A four foot shelf of my journals is the sole testament to the accomplishment of my life.

I have always managed to survive with my writing. If something was turning against me, I could write my way out of it. It’s saved me on many occasions in my career and personal life. Even when I was completely defeated and crushed by life circumstances, I could always write, and wrote my way back to equilibrium and acceptance. One of the few things that has always mattered to me was reading. By way of reading is how I understand anything about my life experience. And where did I end up? Teaching in a technical college, yes, fundamentals of critical reading and writing. Not a bad place for me. So what am I doing spending money on photography, and spending so much time and energy on making pictures.

I inherited my grandfather's Agfamatic camera when 20. I loaded it with film and took some pictures on my walk to school. Four of those pictures grabbed hold of me, held me,no possessed me. I loved the pictures. It's still hard to know if I loved the pictures or the fact I took the pictures. In either case, they were beautiful to me. And I studied photography, practiced it. While I left it for a long time because it was more expensive than I could afford, one day I picked up my sister's camera, looked through the viewfinder, and without pressing the shutter, knew I had to do this again. The image, something about it, takes my breath away. I worry I'm being seduced by the image. Maya well be. It seems to have that allure. Well, I gave in to it, gave myself over to it. Taking pictures once again possesses my soul. I'll carry all kinds of camera weight for hours, travel forever on a bus, and all I need for that to be valued time, is to shoot. I borrowed a camera, then got my own, and have been having a lot of fun ever since.

But it's not just a recreation. In fact I don't enjoy casual photography. Complicates things like pocketbooks and time. I'm looking to make photography a life. I’m counting on it to make sense of life. Am I crazy? Along with the dreams are doubts and questions. Am I just making another commitment in my life that will blow up in my face, have no practical value for my survival?  What sense does it make. As much sense to me as riding horses. But I had to do that, the desire of a 7 year old boy at the Kingston Fair the first time he saw saddled ponies and children riding them. Took me 14 years, but I got on my first horse, for hundreds of hours mucked out horse stalls to get a few hours riding. I was lucky. A teacher found me. After some years I had the chance to ride 4 hours a day every day. I learned to ride beautifully, completely at one with the horse, body and soul. And that was it for the moment and then over. Why all this talk about horses. Well, I want to do the photography in the same way to the same degree. But I don't have my youth. I don't have the means for that immersive experience so necessary to breaking through plateaus of competence. Way too much of a financial commitment. And no teacher. And then in a moment I gave in. I had just finished watching a video of wedding photographer Yervant where he spoke about the passion he had for his photography. It wasn’t about the money or reputation, he said, but about his passion for the image. Without a passion, a photographer should quit, he advises, because without passion, one can’t capture a good image. I realized someone else had this deep emotional pull to a two-dimensional frame. And I couldn't betray that pull in me no matter what logic suggested otherwise.

I guess that's it. For some notion unfamiliar to me the man who only knows reading and writing, one who does love words and delights in them, words neglected to pay the rent and pursue quests, it seems I am in love with the photo, with the lines, shapes, colours and composition, but I don't understand it all. It doesn't make sense on any other level than the visceral. I just do it. Getting that photo seems to me worth all the slogging of equipment, driving for hours, setting up, shooting thousands of images, reading up, practising, learning software, image manipulation, banging my head for missing something key can it be-worth it, just to have taken a photo nobody sees? After eight years of taking a lot of my time and resources, i feel I'm still just practising, not yet close to serious photography. Even so  those few photos I've taken that I love, drive me senselessly on, compel me to try for another one. Though contemplating it often, I just could not give up the camera. It's a madness. I will die mad. 

I fear I am seduced and deceived by the image, and by my taking it. I fear this two–dimensional piece of paper is a substitute, a compensation for something else I am missing in myself. But then I think of great art hanging in a museum; perhaps a painting of a bowl of fruit caught in the morning light. The artist painted a bowl of fruit! And we love the image; it points us to an inner world. How is that, I think and wonder?

I have to accept that deep in me, I need to take pictures. And I may never know why.

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