#706. Taking French leave…

By philberphoto | Opinion

Mar 29



There are times in life when something happens, and you know that it is a sign. Weeks ago, I drafted (but never published) a post relating how my photography had ended up down a dead-end from the points of view of creation and self-expression.



Then, during a photography Meetup, I “saw” a picture that nobody else noticed, and I took the shot. I instantly felt that it had meaning. It wasn’t happenstance, it was portent. It is the last picture on this post.



A couple of weeks later, at a dinner in a restaurant where I had a meeting set up with someone who didn’t show up, my gear bag was stolen as it rested inches from me. #EndOfGame #GameOver.



What happened wasn’t the first such event in my photo life, it was the 4th. But, whereas the previous  3 had been my fault, through laziness and carelessness, this one wasn’t. Earlier in life, I was a man of somewhat imposing stature, but now I am an easy mark. Time changeth us all.



What happened doesn’t really matter. There is more and better gear to be had than ever before. I will not dignify how it happened with meaning. But, whereas before, I was in a hurry to get back on my horse and ride again, now not. What resonates within me is that a cycle has come to its end, hence the title of this post.



This comes from 2 causes.



One is my decreasing ability to shoot what I want when I want and the way I want. Advancing age and its inherent health issues, increasingly shaky hands and weakening eyesight are to blame for this. That I insisted on shooting the largest and heaviest FF lenses that can be adapted on my Sony camera didn’t help. That I never left home without my 5kg+ photo-bag carried a cost, not always compatible with my level of energy.



The other cause is quite different. When I picked up a digital camera, at a time when 10Mp was considered ” forever enough”, I had everything to learn. All the more as I had never had any form of artistic expression in my life. So I learned. Read books. Started to surf fora. Then I met Boris, my first mentor, whose level of photography was light-years ahead of mine. He was good enough to take the time to let me be his padawan. Meeting more people followed, including, of course, the extraordinary friendship with Pascal.



And so I progressed, following multiple paths at the same time. Improving my gear (that was the easiest). Shooting more interesting places and subjects at their best (thanks, Boris!). Improving my shooting from a technical point of view. Letting myself expand my shooting envelope.



This is where things started on a course that ends here. To put it bluntly if I feel this cycle has ended, it is because, deep down, I have been feeling increasingly clearly that, as a photographer, I am somewhere between corrupt and bankrupt.



In life, I am a competitive guy. Not a graceful winner, and a worse than sore loser. Gradually, unbeknownst to me, what started as a (for me) rare exercise in artistic self-expression veered off to what is (again for me) very typical exercise in performance. Hence my race towards the biggest and baddest lenses in the biz’. Remember my shameless question “why do I shoot my fast lenses wide open? Because I can!”



My partaking on fora and on DS became a search for approval. Likes, positive comments, votes. Not only was I looking for quality, but also for quantity. Shooting what would be approved. Some quirky shots that resonated with me but wouldn’t “look good” became closet secrets, shared only with Pascal. I had become a whore in ways other than “only” a bokeh whore.



My participating in Meetups was another step in that direction. In such a group, you are “expected” to shoot, and to post. Otherwise, why, you’ve failed. Obviously. At least in my own eyes. Did I mention that, as a competitive guy, I hate that? So, while I never shot as much as my peers, shooting more became a specific target, rather than shooting “better”. Ugh!



Because, fact is, the shots that resonate with me are not necessarily ones that would get me recognition/approval by my peers. My brother arranged for me to have an exhibition in a wonderful old palace with a curator that has run one of Paris’ great museums. I never went ahead, because I felt like a fraud and didn’t want to be exposed.



So now I understand that the person who stole my gear actually did me a favor, ’cause, thanks to him,  I am no longer displaying stuff “because I can”, “because I have to”, “because it’ll look good on a post”. Goodbye obligation, hello freedom.



Now you can say that this is totally self-inflicted, and this would be correct. Probably because I have never studied nor practiced art, I lacked a sense of vision, and thus pursued the path of least resistance to recognition. This post is a case in point, mixing some shots I am -rightly or wrongly- proud of, on a personal level, and others which are, shall we say, a “product”…



And now it is over, and I am saying good-bye and thank you to each and all of you, a super bunch of people. It has been a hell of a  ride, one that I will always remember fondly. And, if I once again had the choice, I would do it again in a flash.



To all of you, good light, and shalom!



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  • Lash LaRue says:

    You might consider shooting solely with your iPhone, of if you must spend money, a SonyRX100V, and also reading The Tao of Photography by Gross and Shapiro. With luck, you might learn about non-competitive photography and non-dualistic thinking and seeing. Just saying …….

  • Percy Seaton-Smythe says:

    Travel small, travel light…make more art. Best Wishes.

  • Adam Bonn says:

    You sound sure and resigned.. but I dunno man… you can take the photography off the boy, but can you take photography out of him?

    I think your honesty is commendable, you’re either resolute in your some what enforced abstinence or it’ll turn out to be a sabbatical (there’s perhaps a shabbatical joke in there, based on ‘shalom’) and you’ll rise again.

    If the latter, then I think you’ll one day see an image that needs to be taken, and you won’t look back

  • Mark says:

    I have felt similar to you several times and having benefited from your writing and your art, pose the idea of onsidering taking a break without guilt. When you want to come back to photogrpahy beyond your phone, shoot film for a while to slow down your pace and quest for Otus quality. We will all be out here, waiting.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Pardonnez-moi, Philippe? On dit ‘filer à l’anglais’. The french seem to be getting blamed for everything!

    And I seem to remember that it means ‘an unauthorized or unceremonious departure; the act of leaving secretly or in haste’.

    An alternative and rather more long-winded explanation is that ‘… it has been said that the French leave but never say good-bye, while Americans say good-bye but never leave’.

    Now that I’ve tied my brain (or what’s left of it, at this age) up in knots – quo vadis, mon ami? – et pourquoi? Photography is an addiction. Once infected, the patient never recovers. There is no known cure. So are we now to find you sitting on a bench in the Champs de Mars, gazing wistfully or forlornly at the surrounding scene? – or I can I post you a cam that I’m no longer using, to get you back on your feet, and feed the addiction?

    Since I joined DS, I have had several secondary infections. I blame Pascal – he’s in charge, or seems to be, so he sits in the chair marked ‘the blame stops here!’

    The first occurred when he suggested that he had to find things to photograph that weren’t close to home, or the shots wouldn’t be as interesting – something along the lines of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Which I took as a challenge and promptly set out to prove that the opposite is true, and woke up this morning (amongst others) to find myself yet again post processing photos taken in my own street – and my wife peering over my shoulder saying something like ‘OMG – that’s striking!’ I must have taken hundreds, in between – I’ve no idea – and that”s BEFORE I attacked nearby parks and side streets!

    And then Pascal suggested I might like to look into different post processing software and – perhaps – make some notes for DS. Oh dear – now I have so many PP software programs that I don’t even know what I could use them for (how they differ and what their differences could to, to assist in improving my post processing). Sigh – such is the effect of old age, failing memory and the onset of dementia! Back in the days of analogue, it was slow, painstaking and tedious – much of it done under a high power magnifying glass, using special tints that matched the particular printing paper, and a brush with quite short hairs and very few of them, so that it couldn’t – and didn’t – put too much tint in one spot at a time, because they hadn’t yet invented a non-degradable image – there was no way back – if you made a mistake, you had to start over. But digital retouching? – whatever, however, and however much you want!

    Philippe, you are one of the group – you are tops – PLEASE stay with us – we need you! I have a project for you, when you receive my parcel in the post – France has zillions of people riding all over the place on bicycles. This group obsesses over photos of bicycles, but to my perpetual astonishment, they are practically all dead creatures – leaning against a wall or a post – neglected – abandoned – forgotten. Bicycles serve only one useful purpose – movement. They are not MEANT to be left on their own, keeling over on one side. They want the song of the wind singing in the spokes of their wheels – the scricciolare of rusting parts – the shriek of their brake pads, clutching at the rims of their wheels. And above all (LOL – note the humor!), a human sitting there, making it all happen for the bicycle. After my last trip, I returned home wishing I’d had a week to sit around the cities and the countryside, photographing bicycles in all their glory, all their forms & guises, whizzing past me in a dizzy never-ending parade, hurtling to unknown destinations, for unstated, unexplained, unknown reasons. Except that anyone could see at a glance that it must be important.

    So where are all the photos? NOT ONE, that I can remember seeing in DS!

  • NMc says:

    Wow that caught me off guard, a bit melancholy and a bit bitter sweet.
    Not sure that you should use the words ‘corrupt’ and ‘bankrupt’. Those words imply you did something deliberately wrong. Time takes all of us all on our own paths, and we all change our priorities and tastes as we develop, and the inevitable aging process is just life. With your new found ‘freedom’ I hope you find a new passion for what you do to please only yourself, and get a more positive perspective on what you did achieve with the work you have shared.
    Best wishes Noel

  • Gianfranco says:

    Mi mancherai caro amico.
    Buona pasqua.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Mais non, vous filez à l’Anglaise?

    ( No, I don”t speak French, I had to look it up.)

    I’ll miss your posts, and your comments.
    And your photos.
    I suppose we all will.

    … unless you (at least occasionally?) change your mind?

    To, expressively, ignore other”s views on YOUR photos you might temporarily shut down the comment section?

    – – –

    I get the impression that your grieving for the stolen equipment is over?
    Soon time to think of alternatives?

    Perhaps to photograph ONLY for YOUR very own PLEASURE?

    How about some good IBIS?
    And a really good VF?
    ( ..or a good loupe on a fully articulating screen?)
    Less weight?
    And a smallish (good zoom) lens?
    It’s all in the world of m4/3:s…

    And, guaranteed, no Otus or excessive pixels (you won’t be able to print quite as large, but you could have more photos on a limited wall space).

    Good luck with searching!
    And – whichever way you decide to turn – God Speed!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    LOL – and I have no Swedish, Kristian – although I do have Danish cousins.

    Very good suggestion, for Philippe to photograph for his own personal pleasure. I have been doing that since April 1967, when I took a photo that all of my friends criticised simply because it wasn’t the same as their idea of what I should have done. Later that year I included it in a book of photos a friend of mine & I had taken – and it can’t have been too awful, because the entire edition of the book sold out in three weeks.

    So I have been taking photos pretty much all my life, for my own personal pleasure, with little or no regard to other people’s comments or opinions. (They don’t often get a chance anyway – mostly, I never show them to other people 🙂 THAT stops their sharp tongues! ;‑) 🙂 ) Philippe, that’s a great suggestion!

  • philberphoto says:

    Thank you to all of you well-wishers! Highy appreciated! I believe some clarification is in order. When my situation forced me into taking stock, rather than just “going on for one more day”, What did I see? That I had embarked on an arms race, so to speak. Better gear, better pics, more good pics, and so on. This ended up taking up enough of my time and evergy, and “having to” hit goals, that it felt like a load, even like work at times. And with no relief in sight, on the contrary, since “progress” and “improvement” were on the roadmap while my physical resources were on an irreversible downhill slope.
    That doesn’t mean that I no longer love the IQ that Otus lenses deliver, that I no longer admire it, revel in it, and see it as a reflexion of myself in a narcissistic way.
    Just, somehow, gear and posting had taken over the game. I was their servant. And they were demanding.
    Pretty much at the same time as this happened, DS contributor L N sent over a bunch of pics, and one of them spoke to me. It really resonated. And I thought, THAT is what photography is about. There was nothing in this shot that required extreme gear. Rather, it required a real, deep connection with the subject. If I were to count how many of my pics resonate in that way with me in my last post, the total is 1, + 2. One that I really liked from the moment I saw it (I didn’t it even “see” it as I made it, it “showed up” on the LCD), plus 2 that are quite nice. Oh, the others aren’t bad at all, they are competent, some of them are fun, or clever, or interesting, or likeable. Just, that is not what LN showed is doable, and not worth the bother I was putting myself through, frankly.
    Now, to the present and the future. My giving up photography in my previous cycle is final. I have no desire whatsoever to go back there. However, it does continue in that I see myself constantly looking at the world with a photographer’s eye. How would it look? Is there something there? And, quite infrequently compared to my previous rythm, I see something of interest. I am no longer looking, searching for pictures, I let them them come at me. And, frankly, it is a relief. My walks are lighter, more carefree, unfocused except to enjoy the moment, even when the scene has no foreground and can’t fit into 3:2 or 4:5 or a square. Carpe diem and sursum corda!
    I have great conversations with Pascal, who is hell-bent (in an understated -I was going to write underhanded- way) on bringing me back into the game, and who knows so well how to push my buttons. In truth, I do go out with a camera. An older one (thanks for the offer, Pete, so generous of you, wonderful really!) and one prime, not even my favorite FL. Very light setup, so light I don’t notice it. I’ve shot maybe 30 pics of maybe 12 subjects over 3 weeks, Vs. 2x to 3x that in any week, and more in a “good week” previously. Out of that, there are some nice enough ones, all of which would have been better with my previous gear. Interest? Zero, or close. But I did take one that I like. I shot it 5 times in different ways, and it produced 2 shots that I am happy with. Would I have shot it previously? Very probably. Would I have taken it the same way? I think not, because I wasn’t looking for the same “result”. Pascal likes them, but then he is such a nice guy that his liking them says more about him than it says about my pics… Do I want to share them? Sort of, and sort of not. I don’t really care, because, deep down, they are “right” (for me). I know it, I feel it.
    So whither to go? Stop altogether, if these are just the dying embers of a lost flame? Quite possibly. Continue as is, like the proverbial old soldier, who never dies, and gets quirkier as age piles on? Probably. Build a new system, designed to be my servant this time around, and capture those situations that I connect with, that talk to me and that I talk back to, that seek me out, however few? It is not out of the realm of the possible, who knows?
    And, yes, the pic that I like. It is a bike…:-)

  • Mel says:

    Here’s a thought: change your thinking from competitive, award-winning photos and start thinking about HAPPINESS. How to achieve happiness? Take photos of people (not landscapes and things) with your phone. Then GIVE them the photos. If the subject is local, I make a 4×6 print, put the print in an inexpensive matte frame, and give it to them. The last time I did this for a woman who runs a bar in San Francisco, she was thrilled. Her husband keeps the photo on his desk. You get the point. Take photos not for the results from uber lenses (although wonderful), but for the DELIGHT in your subjects. A 4×6 inch print in an inexpensive matte frame will do wonders for the psyche: yours and theirs. The next step in to create inexpensive photo books (Blurb) which you can give to family and friends. It’s a shift in thinking: from wall art and gallery prints to little “jewels” taken with your phone — that thrills people. This is what keeps me going. Maybe, you too.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      A bit of half-and-half, for me, Mel. My most appreciative audience is people whose dogs or children I photograph for them. Then warmed by their praise & adulation, I can go & photograph things that amuse me. Since I haven’t given a damn about anyone else’s opinions about my photography since April 1967, when “they” all turned on me for taking a photo “the wrong way round”, that keeps me and all my friends happy with my photography. As long as I keep the two sets of photos in separate piles, and don’t get them all mixed up.

      And I’ve had two repeat orders for prints this week, so it seems to be working. Finally & at last. After nearly 66 years!

      At least this means I don’t have to follow Van Gogh’s example, and slice off one ear.

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