12.20.2009

When In Rome....

Is everything in your life done on some sort of efficient agenda?  Are all your shoots scheduled?  Are you proud of your time management skills?  Do you see value in walking around with no conscious intention?

There's tremendous creative energy in throwing away "productivity" and replacing it with quiet, active observation.  When I lose the thread of excitement in my art (as opposed to work) I know I can get it back by repudiating the socially engrained work ethic that haunts most of us.  The only way for me to move forward is to not think about "moving forward."

I pick up a camera and a lens and some film or a memory card and I hit the streets and wander aimlessly. Sometimes I just observe stuff.  Sometimes I have a reaction to what I see.  It could be excitement or fear or a cynical sense of boredom; but some sort of reaction.  That's when I photograph.

A number of years ago I finished up some corporate work and I felt burned out.  Used up.  My store of visual energy was used up in the service of injecting passion into temporary, and ultimately unimportant materials.  I told my wife I needed to recharge and I packed a small bag and headed to the airport alone.

I was thinking of going to Mexico City but at the last moment I decided on Rome.  I had no agenda, no itinerary.  I landed at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport, took the train into town and booked a room at my favorite old hotel, the Victoria.

Every morning I got up early and ate quick breakfast in the dining room.  I carried a Mamiya 6 camera with a 75mm lens and stuck a 50mm lens in the pocket of my jacket.  In the opposite pocket I stuffed in ten rolls of 120mm Tri-x or T-max CN.  This gave me 120 potential images per day.  120 chances to find something fun.

But I never went out thinking, "I need to find something to shoot."  Instead I went out thinking, "I want to see what life looks like in Rome."  And if I saw something that caused a reaction then that was a bonus.  I walked and ate and shopped and shot for the better part of eight days.

When I came back home I had images that echoed what I felt during my visit.  During my walks.  I never thought about the images as stock.  I never justified the trip as a tax write off.  I just responded to things that made me think or feel.

Using one simple camera and one or two lenses, along with the formalist discipline of locking into one kind of monochrome film, focused me in a way that digital doesn't.  It limited choice so that my brain could process the emotion instead of running mental sub routines concerning color balance or contrast.  It freed me up to respond in a less encumbered way.

I have a camera I am using right now that I'm trying to sculpt into the shooting cameras of those days.  Black and white.  One aspect ratio (square).  One ISO (160).  One lens (Normal focal length).  If I limit choice I expand reaction.  My brain might work differently from yours.  That's what makes my vision mine and yours yours.

I'm just describing what works for me.

The top image was taken while walking down an alley.  The gentleman was totally aware of my presence.  I smiled and brought the camera up to my eye.  When I clicked the shutter and then let the camera drop down to my waist we both nodded at each other and moved on with our days.

The bottom image was taken during a crowded day at the Vatican.  It's part of a series that I love because it shows how integrated faith is in the daily lives of some Romans, as well as their proximity to the symbols of their faith.

I went to Rome to see things in a fresh way.  Next week maybe I'll go to San Antonio, Texas and walk around downtown.   Readjust my eyes to a new year.