I haven’t been taking many photographs recently.
When I analyze it, the story goes: I started sorting through years of photos, trimming the fat, collecting the better bits into something worthwhile. Sorting years of photos proved such a daunting task that at one point early on I was able to calculate how long it would take to finish this personal project. I determined it would take a long time – too long, really. So, why shoot more? Why bother?
My grandfather was a photographer too. Always with the camera. Every family get together, several photos a day. He always promised us that if we made a funny face, the photo would be printed at 8×10 size. I saw dozens of hilarious/embarassing 8x10s of various relatives over the years.
I’m halfway decent at photography – that is, I’m good enough to know it would take a whole lot of money and time I don’t have to buy equipment and learn about lighting and photoshop curves, and tweak tweak tweak tweak tweak.
I bought a DSLR a few years back, a Nikon D90 and some cheap lenses. Putting a piece of hardware like that in your hand teaches you *real* fast that you have no idea what you’re doing. The D90 practically killed my interest in expanding my photographic ability, until a few years later .. when the iPod touch had a little camera in it.
My grandfather was really a pretty amazing photographer. When he passed away around the turn of 2004, I had the opportunity to flip through tens of thousands of old photographs he took. For a while there I told myself I’d select the very best thousand or so and scan them for future-proofing. I had more than a few photo albums of his and diligently scanned and scanned for a while.
Problem was, there weren’t 1,000 good photos, there were tens of thousands. For every photo that meant something to me, there were 100 I’d skip on by that my father or an aunt would consider precious – snapshots of moments foreign and meaningless to me.
Photography’s a funny thing, as they say, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. A photo may hold a lot of sentimental value to you and have a hold on your heart that will never let go. The very same photo may mean nothing to anyone else, hell, some of your favorite photos of your spouse will never be their favorites of themselves.
Once in a very long while you’ll shoot something and know in that very moment that you’ve captured something eternal – some little moment that transcends the family reunion you’re standing in.
I didn’t start shooting until digital cameras became affordable. I never had to wait 3 days for a batch of exposures to come back and teach me. I’ve almost never had to wonder if I got the shot or not. Further, I’m able to shoot 1,000 photos in an afternoon without paying a cent for any of them.
I don’t think I’ve ever shot 1,000 photos in a day, but I could.
We had two photographers at our wedding. A few weeks after the event, we received 8 dvds with 5000+ raw images on them. Scrolling through the photos was more like watching a bit of a movie in slow motion than looking at a collection of photos. Several minutes worth of burst shots, 3 takes of the same shot – trying to get the one person to stop blinking.
Rewind to my grandfather in the 60s or 70s, or my father in the 80s waiting for the exact right moment to take some of those timeless, perfect, shots of a child or a bit of landscape. I sometimes wonder if my grandfather was experienced enough with his film-based camera to know he got the shot – could he tell he had captured something eternal?
If he could, is he the sucker, having to wait 3 days for that print to come back, or am I? Did he rush to open his envelope photos and have a second little transcendent moment when he confirmed he really did, indeed, get the shot?
There was a time in my life when I didn’t want to participate, and the camera became a weird extension of myself. In an odd way, it felt like the photographs would prove that I was living, after the moment had faded and passed.
There were more than a few moments where the camera got in the way of the experience. I’ve got great photos to show anyone who’d care to see – at the expense of missing more than a few ‘eternal moments’.
Every time I look through my photos of the past, a million memories flood in, many seemingly long forgotten. My photos remind me of scanning my grandfather’s photos in my shitty post-college apartment, wasting days and days of time. They remind me of the time the dog found a bag of powdered sugar and behaved like a high addict for a number of hours. The time I kept the shutter on long-exposure while my wife drove us home in a thunderstorm at night. The times I spent a whole summer walking our family dogs around the park with my father.
My photos, like my grandfathers, will fade. I know this, and you should too. At times it seems to take a monumental amount of effort to pick yourself up off the floor, and just keep on going – and photography, for me, occasionally feels very similar.
But, the photos remind me, when the timing’s right, that life’s for living – rather than archiving or proving something. This is why I continue shooting.
I never once asked my grandfather why he took photos – that was just who he was, what he did. I wonder if photography was both timeless and secretly tragic in his mind, as it is in mine. I wonder what he thought would happen to those ten thousand slides of random landscapes and buildings, I wonder if he cared.
Time is both finite and infinite. It’s finite for you and I, but infinite going forward. I think, – I think it takes equal parts courage and crazy to snap the shutter to capture that eternal moment that you know will fade.