All my holiday pictures suck

My personal rule when on vacation: Take WAY too many pictures. 

In the past, I’ve returned from two week vacations overseas, excited to see my pictures on my obscenely massive pc screen, only to get the the old Peggy Lee feeling, Is That All There Is ‘Why didn’t I take more shots? Jesus, I’ve really only got a handful of shots that I like, even though I felt I was constantly taking pictures.’

This October past, I visited Scotland, and England for a couple of weeks, and took over 1500 pictures. What any sane person would think was an insane amount.

I got about half a dozen pictures that I was actually proud of.

How the fuck does that happen?

I consider myself to be reasonably competent with a camera, I’ve got great gear, and I was in places that are ridiculously photogenic. One would think that the pictures would practically take themselves, right?

Well, not quite. Turns out bigger emphasis equals bigger expectations.

I wound up with a few shots that are worthy of printing, and framing -and maybe I will some day, but what I really got, was a photographic essay of my trip.

Sundry snapshots of hotels stayed in, food eaten, bad weather, galleries, stuffed sheep, photos taken through train and bus windows……  In short, the kind of shit a tourist takes.

In the end, I got out of it exactly what I put into it. A whole bunch of pictures that really wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else but me. 

Holiday snapshots, with the emphasis on snapshots.

I have been to London at least a half dozen times now, and it showed in the images I took. I knew what I wanted, and I had ideas about how to go about it. Subsequently, I got a reasonable amount of pictures I was satisfied with. Pictures I took in, say, Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Brighton look like they were taken by a tourist. An outsider. Someone who really didn’t know the place very well. Competent, but really just snapshots. Upon my return, while looking at what I had, thoughts like, ‘damn! If I had just taken two steps to the right,’ or ‘If I had just waited a couple of minutes for the sun to come out from behind the clouds…’ kept popping into my head. 

But I didn’t. I got what I got.

I’m not disappointed though. I whittled down all of the shots I took to about 75 ‘keepers’, and put them in a folder with all of the rest of my holiday shots. Simple little mementos.

When I travel, I also get a new scribbler, and pen from the dollar store before I go, and keep a daily (sometimes twice, or thrice daily) journal. I could just use my phone, or tablet instead, but I like the fact that my handwriting reflects my mood, and my atrocious grammar, spelling, and punctuation is recorded for my amusement later on.

Just like this blog.

There it was….gone!

The engine, as well as the cars it’s dragging has long since been scrapped, the tracks were dug up a while back, hell; even the movie sucked!

Hang around long enough, and the world around you changes. Take pictures long enough, and you can catalogue it. 

Every once in a little while, I go back and check out some of my oldest shots. When I’m not cringing at how bad they are, I find muttering the word ‘gone’ a lot. Stuff gets dug up, flattened, or replaced. Especially, if you live in North America, it seems. I’ve had the good fortune to visit plenty of the great cities of Europe, and it seems to me that they really go out of their way to repair what they’ve already got. Not just the obvious iconic structures, but all of the regular housing, and business structures for regular folks. Train stations, businesses, sporting grounds… Seems to me that if we in N/A think that something is a little old, or can be done better, we level it, and replace it. And it’s almost always replaced with something that’s not designed to last a hundred years.

Here in Toronto, there’s always cranes in the sky. It’s true, this city is growing at an outrageous pace, but it’s also true that those cranes aren’t always building upon previously unused spaces. Old shit gets leveled, new shit gets raised.

Sometimes, I’ll find myself in places downtown, that I don’t even recognize at all. I used to know what certain intersections looked like, but not anymore.

I suppose that this is great, if you like to catalogue the growth of a city, but really, for me, it’s tediously repetitive. There really needs to be a middle ground here, and I’m not talking about something as grotesquely hideous as the architectural nightmare that is the ROM. And most definitely not OCAD’s Sharp Centre for  Design.

oh well… Things could be worse, I suppose. At least things aren’t as bad as the nightmare that is the crawling babies of the Zizkov tv tower in Prague.

Style? What style?

About 20 yrs ago, I began teaching myself how to play the banjo. Since I had become a fairly competent guitarist earlier in my life, I had a reasonable idea of what I was getting myself into. Being self taught on most things that require a bit of skill, it followed that learning the banjo would be the same. This time, however, I tried something a little different. I imagined what I would end up sounding like if I didn’t just try to copy what I saw others doing; if I didn’t look too closely at what ‘proper technique’ was, and if I went out of my way to avoid trying to play along with what the big-shots were playing.

In other words, I was somewhere between a mushroom growing in the dark, and a cargo cult.

What I ended up with, was something quite different than what I was hearing others do -when I started really listening to all the nuances, and variants. Some things that others could do fairly easily, I found really hard to do, and other things, that I was told were quite difficult, I had no problem with. I also noticed that there aren’t really very many people who played like me at all. I found a couple of ‘old time’ banjo players who were somewhat similar, but only for certain things. For better or worse, I had come up with something different.

I’m self taught with a camera as well. I’ve read a few books on the mechanics, and principles, (mostly when I started out) and still, to this day, look for tips, and suggestions on how to improve, but I’ve never taken a course on photography, or composition. (Heh… maybe it shows?)

I’ve made conscious decisions on how I shoot; like shooting in B&W, and using more shadows, and darkness in my shots, even to the point of arguably underexposing things, but that’s what I like. At least for now. (I remember reading an interview with Steven Spielberg years ago, where he was discussing his craft. He was talking about cinematic style, and he mentioned that he liked to film the light, whereas, someone like Martin Scorsese films the shadows. Wow! That really hit home with me, because that’s how I see envision things too, and now thanks to Spielberg, I’d be able to explain myself!)

I know that how, and what, one photographs determines one’s style, but I don’t really think about it. I just try to get the camera set to where I like it, and then take the picture. Pleasing myself always seems to be best. And just like learning to play the banjo, painting your house, or even what clothes you choose to wear, requires a little bravery, and confidence if you’re going to do things your way. Nothing wrong with wearing bright red socks with a charcoal gray suit, but you could raise an eyebrow or two, and in certain circumstances, it’ll even piss some people off.

Sometimes I think that ‘style’ is a term best used by someone other than the person doing the creating.

I suppose it just boils down to perseverance. At least it does in my case. Stick with something long enough, and it seems as though more and more of your personality comes out.

Or, again in my case, keep beating your head against the wall, and maybe you’ll actually learn something.

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