What’s your most memorable (photographic) aha moment of the year ?
Century posts (#100, #200, #300 …) are typically a time to celebrate having enjoyed photography together for another 100 articles, a time to look at the future of our craft and of DS’s editorial line, and to maybe recap what we enjoyed or not during that period.
Let me extend this to the whole year, #700 was close enough to the beginning of the year, and #800 is close enough to the end, to make this OK. In #700, Paul launched us off with this :
And, in 799, published this week-end, he ended with this :
And I can only wonder whether there’s a predator / prey relationship here? 😉
More seriously, though, I’d like to tell you about my personal podium of photographic highlights of the year. And what they mean to me, in terms of those aha moments that tend to shape our lives.
Leaving aside the build quality, the quirks, the deliberate shooting experience, what this camera (re)taught me above all else is that photography is a craft. A craft in which subjective is far more important than objective (no pun, no pun).
Photography is increasingly seen as a valuable form of art and appreciated as much for the meaning or mood it conveys as for the visual beauty of the physical object presented to you on the wall. The two aspects (meaning vs aesthetics) sit at either end of a spectrum and artists seem to fall somewhere along the rainbow, with the very best of them encompassing the whole (for a blend of deep meaning and stunning, breathtaking, beauty, I can’t think of anyone more impressive than Hiroshi Sugimoto).
What most of those artists share is a love of film or large format digital. Whether they use that deadpan aesthetic that is so in vogue today (Gursky and friends) or stand firmly in the corner of fine art, many produce prints that are exquisitely finished, sometimes spending months in post-processing.
What the Hassy X1D showed me is a glimpse of that world. For a minute there, with that wonderful camera in hand, I felt like an artist more than a technophile.
It’s silly and objectively unjustifiable, but that’s what it did to me. With its blend of slow, deliberate shooting and exquisite image quality straight out of the box that goes sooo far beyond the price or resolution differences with my usual workshorse, it made me feel like I was in complete control of my images.
And because its IQ was so obvioulsy unrelated to any technical specification, it taught me that IQ and enjoyment have very little (if anything) to do with tech. A lesson I should never have forgotten in the first place.
2018 Photographic aha moment #3 – Never again will I give a f.ck about technology in photography. I won’t run away from a camera just because it has high res but I have come to realise that most specifications truly are vacuous drivel and completely unrelated to real IQ or enjoyment. From now on, I will use cameras and decide whether to buy them or not based on a more holistic evaluation.
Wow. Talk about misconceptions.
If you’ve been brainwashed into thinking Japan is that fast-moving, ultra-modern country full of stressed out xenophobic people where you eat raw whale all day long, think again. Our experience, and the experience of most of the people who have spent any time away from the main tourist attractions and rail stations at peak rush hour, is almost the exact opposite.
Slow-paced, welcoming, old, some might say fading, and extremely relaxed. Food ? Well, take it from gluttonous French guy, it is incredible. Again, staying away from tourist hotspots and doing as the locals, that is.
Most striking and photographically memorable to me, though, is what the Japanese call Wabi Sabi aesthetics (long article on this coming very shortly).
Wabi Sabi roughly means an almost spiritual longing for all that is decaying, passing. It translates into areas that look old and immaculately maintained, ugly cement walls used to hastily rebuild Japan after WWII’s savagery, slowly acquiring a patina while plants in cracked pots grow at their foot. It means eating in some of the world’s most legendary and expensive restaurants, out of chipped bowls, each worth the price of my camera. It means constant maintenance rather than replacement. It means a partial rejection of skin-deep beauty in favour of a deep reverence for the grace of decay.
I imagined it to be an empty concept, much like Feng-Shui in most of the Western world, but some Japanese people very much live it and breathe it. Even the neon-lit commercial streets Tokyo is famous for have that quaint old look to them when you look closely.
This has changed my appreciation of old things (for lack of a better description) and my shooting style. I used to enjoy applying heavy vignetting and some scratches to photographs of glass buildings in London but now realise that is the exact opposite of that Wabi Sabi philosophy that feels so serene and natural. Ever since my (recent) trip, my photographs have been more direct, my PP being more focused on revealing what is interesting in the file and far less on adding artificial flavouring.
2018 Photographic aha moment #2 – Essence over processing. By which I mean I will now try to reveal more than cover up, to let intrinsic qualities shine through rather than applying my personal point of view on the image. Obviously, this ties in with #3, because I’ll be wanting a camera that’s truthful and doesn’t mess with tones or colours.
I knew something was wrong. Owning a modern Sony camera with arguably some of the world’s best glass and feeling unsatisfied either means that you’re a spoiled brat or that something important is missing in your hobby.
For me and, again, this is a very personal post, that missing something was printing. And the ramifications of this go far deeper than the simple but profound satisfaction of holding a good print and thinking “I did this”.
Heck, I don’t even own a printer, yet. Mine has conked out and I’m waiting for end of year offers to buy a new one, presumably a Canon Pro-1000. But that hasn’t stopped me getting prints made by Picto a very good pro lab in Paris, and by Christ Stump, a very good amateur printer who prints for fellow amateurs at a very competitive price.
Even better, friends and readers have been sending me prints (in the spirit of printswapping) that look and feel wonderful and I cannot wait to reciprocate when my equipment arrives.
But there are still more benefits to printing than pride of creation and the joy of sharing, community and friendship. What I find the most rewarding with printing is the change of focus from digital image on a screen to a physical object you can touch and hold. That sounds painfully obvious, but the associated engagement of more senses than just sight has had a profound impact on everything else in my approach to photography.
The reality is that what makes a print good is quite different from what makes a picture nice on screen. It’s harder to create a print that sings, but the result has far more impact. So your priorities change significantly.
First, who care about resolution anymore? A good 24Mpx file will allow a very nice A2 print to be made (240dpi). The final product is the paper. You chose what size you want to print and work backwards from that to find the resolution you need. I’m not sure many brands sell a camera that won’t cover A2, these days.
Also, what looks nice on screen rarely looks perfect on paper. In particular, weird or sloppy PP doesn’t cut it. So that feeling of converging, over several days, towards something that’s really deeply satisfying is a fabulous antidote to overexposure to social media or other fast-paced nonesense.
Also, printing isn’t really environmentally sound, whereas I try to be. Which means my selectivity towards files that will end up inking expensive paper is much, much higher than for online sharing. On a given month, I’ll be happy if 2-5 new photos make it to a really good print. That means the portfolio grows veeeery slowly, but every picture in there has a lasting effect on me.
If you’re thinking this has made me more mature and less vulnerable to GAS, think again. The focus of my obsession has simply shifted from sensors to papers, inksets and printers. But the implied experimentation is incredibly fun. In just a few months, I’ve tried papers from Awagami, Canon, Hahnemuhle, Ilford, Moab, Red River and 3 printing processes : inkjet, good ol’fashon silver halyde and piezo. This is soo much more fun than obsessing over megapixels and frames per second.
2018 Photographic aha moment #1 – If I’m not printing, it ain’t photography.
Yes, this is the big one for me. When I hold up a print, or look at one on the wall, that missing something just vanishes. The process feels complete. And, because the number of keepers is so much lower than for online sharing, the process also feels meaningful and rewarding. It creates a sense of achievement that no file on screen has ever produced for me. Printing again has definitely filled a gap that had been nagging for many years.
So, there you have it. Those are my 3 photographic aha moments for 2018. All 3 are closely related and see me taking a step back to let the subject shine through, on beautiful paper.
Of course many of you were already printing on Jan 1. Many of you have different priorities when it comes to your gear, your goals or your process. So I’m curious: what were your major photographic takeways in the past year? And how have those changed you?
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