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Everything awful all over the place

      Every January, I do a back up of all of the shots that I’ve kept from the previous year. I do a monthly backup throughout the year as well, but at some point, at the beginning of the year, I do a major housecleaning.

   Unfortunately, I can’t help but look at some of the older images that I have stored on one of several hard drives that I use for backing up my images. Ugghh… There’s some pretty horrible photos that I don’t know why I took, let alone kept. At some point in my photographic journey, I must have had a reason, but those reason(s) now clearly escape me. I’m guessing that for most, I saw a little bit of something in the frame. Or someone was striking a mildly interesting pose, and even though the rest of the image was shit, I decided to keep it. Terrible stuff. The above image of the crashed cop car is a slide scan from the early nineties, as can be seen from the poor quality. Don’t know why I took/kept it either, but I guess it serves here as a metaphor for my crappy photography back then.

   Clearly, in more ways than one, I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew how to operate my camera properly, and I had a reasonably fair understanding of the concept of composition, But, like many amateurs, there was no consistency. No flow; no underlying themes. About the only thing that I kept going back to over and over, was my love of railroad photography. (I’ve got thousands of images of trains that I’ve taken over the years, and I toyed with the idea of having a page dedicated to it here on this site, but it just didn’t feel like it fit.)

   It’s easy to get discouraged. If you stick with some crafts or disciplines long enough, you create a lasting record of your progression and growing skill. Or, if you’re like me, you often feel like you’ve left a messy trail of your ineptitude.

   Photography is somewhat unique in this regard. Every time we press the shutter button, poof! the image is now ‘the past.’ We’ve stopped time with a photo that we can go back to and examine much more than we ever could when we took the shot. For a long time, I’d see (and I sometimes still do) distracting elements in the composition that I missed when I took it; poles, or branches seemingly popping out of people’s heads, or perhaps a giant coloured sign that commands attention much more than what I was trying to focus upon. 

   The thing is, from time to time, I’d actually blunder my way into actually getting what I thought was a good shot!

“World Trade Center” 1994

   And there’s the rub. Accidentally taking a satisfactory shot makes you want to keep on taking bad shots until you get lucky again. The trick is, to try and actually learn why you think it’s a good shot, and what you did to get it. Most of us who are even reasonably serious about this stuff have studied -or at least looked, at the masters that came before us. We have seen, perhaps thousands of ‘great images.’ We think we know what a ‘great image’ is; and we kinda’ do, in a way, but the main reason we feel this way, is because they have been presented to us as ‘great images.’ We believe that it must be a ‘great image,’ because a noted critic tells us so; a gallery owner hung the work, and a book publisher put up the funds to publish several thousand copies of the photographers work.

   But do we really understand what makes the ‘great image’ great? 

   Aye, there’s the rub…’ 


Convincing myself

   Sometimes, I get nothing. I’ll go out with my camera for a couple of hours, take a bunch of shots, but end up with nothing that I’m satisfied with. The worst, is when I’m sure I’ve got a couple of shots that I’m convinced are going to look great, but look like shit when I get home and view them on my pc.  “I couldn’t have gone out for a few hours shooting, and ended up with absolutely nothing, could I? Hell, I took over fifty shots!” (At least, when I go out and don’t even take a single frame, I know I’ve got nothing. It sucks, but sometimes you just don’t see anything that warrants pushing the shutter button.)

   It’s then that something odd happens: I convince myself that maybe this shot isn’t as bad as I think. Maybe that shot just needs a little editing to make it sparkle. Then I spend some time cropping and editing the shots in an attempt to salvage something. Anything. Maybe if I just give it an ‘artistic’ crop it’ll somehow work as an avant garde post-modernist piece. (When you get to the point of referring to your photos as ‘pieces,’ you know you’ve crossed the threshold into psychobabble hell)

   But it never works. Because, ultimately, I just cant fool myself. At least in that regard, I’m impervious to my own bullshit.


Leica

   Early last November, I did it. I actually went out and spent an obscene amount of money on a Leica Q2. I had been tossing the idea around in my head for quite some time, and finally got up the guts to do it. Then, actually having the balls to part with the cash -no mean feat, for me.

   After tons of internet research, (and I mean a lot; I don’t think that there’s a web page on the internet that reviews, or even talks about the Q2 that I haven’t visited -many, more than once.) going down to the camera store that I’ve dealt with for years to handle it; and firing off a bunch of shots, I made my move. Along with the camera, I also picked up an extra battery, and the thumb rest -both of which are absolutely necessary for my way of doing things, and the extortionate price of both combined, left me with the feeling of being fleeced.

   So, after over two months of shooting with it, was it worth it? 

‘Frolicking in the Snow’ 2021. Mint-ish picture taken with my Fuji X-T3 before the Q2 inevitably gets dinged up, and scraped, or some of the paint wears off:

  Unequivocally, yes. But only if you shoot a certain way. If I wanted something for sports, portraiture, concert photography, or nature, it most certainly wouldn’t have been my first choice. But for street, documentary, stills, and landscape, it’s a beast. The combination of huge sensor, (Leica encourages cropping with included frame line guides for 35mm, 50mm, and 75mm crops) and a fast and sharp lens, makes it a great -perhaps the best camera out there- for me.

   But at the end of the day, it’s all about the image. Image stabilization, 900 frames a second, autofocus speeds measured in picoseconds don’t mean a thing if you can’t get the colour and image quality that is satisfactory.

“Shaw St. Fire”  2022 (f5.6, 1/500, ISO 200)

   There have been two times in my life when I got a WOW feeling looking through the viewfinder of a camera. The first, was when I bought my Nikon F3hp back in about 1990, or thereabouts. The second, -you guessed it, was when I peered through the ‘finder of a Q2. Sure, there have been other great cameras in-between, but nothing that gave me that feeling. 

“Ossington Stn. Night 2021” (f3.5, 1/30, ISO 800)

   Expensive? Hell yeah. Unfairly over priced? Maybe. But it is made in Germany, where labour isn’t as cheap as it is in, say, some Southeast Asian country. Also, and this is just a personal anecdote, I once, years ago, met a fellow who actually claimed to have worked at Leica when he was a young man. He claimed that Leica’s quality control was ridiculously meticulous, and that where other companies had a ‘good enough’ mentality, Leica had a ‘perfect, or it’s not released’ attitude. I see no reason to doubt that.

‘Bike Lane’ 2021 (1/3200, f8, ISO 800)

   So, it looks like I’ll be living a life of penury in 2022. No matter, shooting digitally doesn’t cost anything. Well… there’s printing… and framing…. and…

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