I remember reading how Argentinian pianist Miguel-Angel Estrella kept playing the “piano” on just a bit of wood in the cell in which the military regime had jailed him. Which allowed him to resume his piano career once he had been set free.
To me photography is somewhat the same, save for the Junta and its goons, and the restrictions of a jail cell. What I mean by that is that photography certainly does not begin with gear, and not even with a subject or circumstances. It begins as a mindset, a focus, what I call Putting Myself in Photo Mode, or PMPM. Sure, I also take some pictures even when not “in the zone”, but they tend to be casual snaps, with eventual beginner’s luck.
So the question is: what is this PMPM, how to achieve it at will, and how to remain in this mode once in it?
You people should know, I am not fit to be President of the United Sates. Why? Because I can’t do 2 things at the same time. Like chatting and shooting. Or walking at a given (somebody else’s) pace and shooting. Or even thinking seriously about something deep and shooting. PMPM takes up all my memory and processor speed. Which is why, by the way, it is so good at cleaning one’s head.
PMPM is discipline. It is how to remove outside factors to focus on image-making. How never to give up. How to try harder, more times. How to shake less (in my dreams!) How to let my imagination roam all that could be and not only what there is on the surface. How to increase the matter-penetrative power of my eyesight. How to bend matter and light to my will. How to leap through the air like the mighty warriors of Crouching tiger hidden dragon. How their extremely rigid discipline makes them supremely free. Like the bows of string instruments which must remain in totally controlled contact with the strings, that the music might take flight, like this.
But let’s assume that I have PMPM. What next? Next is entering in a dialogue with… not exactly with the subject, because mine is not reportage or object photograhy. No, it is a dialogue with what is not yet, but could be, might be, ought to be. For want of a better metaphor, It is like talking to a vapor or a mist and asking it to take a certain shape, and hold it. Assuming the mist plays along (big if!), capturing the image is not instant, like a panther, it is slow, like a spider. And when one returns to the same subject, the process does not begin anew, it resumes its ongoing course
So, where does the gear come into play? Is this (my) process gear-sensitive, or a total mind-trip? In a way that is sure to land me in hot water, I’s say that the process is gear-independent, but the result is not. I have reached PMPM with an old camera and lens. In a warped and wonderful way, it actually helped me realise that focusing on gear was a dead end [quickly dons bulletproof vest and helmet, makes a desperate lunge towards the bunker before bullets and shells hit home]. Well, not a dead end exactly, beacuse it landed me many beautiful pictures. Just not many images.
For me, pictures are the obvious, what is there, for amateurs and professionals, beginners and the obsessive, for one to harvest. You don’t make them, you take them. Images, you make. they are yours. Which doesn’t mean that images have to be unconventional, only that they are the result of a deeply personal process, which may or not make them unconventional, but always personal.
Basically, I am done making efforts to take pictures. Sure, when I see one begging to be made, I don’t hesitate or deny myself just because it is a picture, but this is not what I look for. I seek to make images, and, when and where I can, deep images. Which may, when my process fails, lead me to hoping for images but getting pictures, or not even….
The real how-to runs like this: as long as you “only” (there is nothing wrong with that, actually) engage in new subjects every time you shoot, the amount of opportunities that are there for the harvesting will/could/would be enough to satisfy anyone. But if you begin going over a known subject again and again, you cannot but have to begin to dig deeper. That helps force youself into PMPM and identify it. The goal of course is that you can (hope to) learn to do it -so to speak- at will including on first time opps of rich content.
But back to gear, in a sort of back-door way. PMPM is also why GAS is good. GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) basically puts new gear in one’s hands. With new gear, you cannot rely on old recipes, you have to test what works, what doesn’t, and how to get the best out of it. So, just like going over a subject multiple times, trying out gear forces one to focus, seek, experiment, and try to understand. The usual way to do this is to shoot a subject you’ve already shot multiple times, to get a reference point. Of course, it is a costly way to get into PMPM…:-)
As you can see, PMPM is still a stretch for me, rather than a switch I can throw at will. One tip that helps is to take quickly a few shots at the beginning of a session. They feel like a calibration exercise. Shoot them precisely, even though they might be of limited artistic value, and be done with them. But they will have contributed to the equivalent of a warm-up.
Then there is the question of using multiple lenses. Fact is, at my stage, changing lenses does break my flow and my concentration. So, much as it pains me to be less-than-optimal in my shots, I haven’t yet mastered the art of changing lenses and retaining PMPM
My guess is that the overriding factor is speed. If I did slow down and allow myself unlimited time -relatively speaking of course, not like Leonardo and La Gioconda- to make an image, then changing lenses would be a breeze. Slowing down means producing less, so I need to put a rein on my obession with more of everything -food, words, performance, whatever-. Slowing down is key.
Slowing down. Pascal, on the other hand is happily and briskly marching along in order to stimulate his creative juices, while I slow down to a crawl. Soon no movement will be detectable in me, as I become a form of urban statue. And the gentle click of the shutter release somehow happens. The perfect picture. The masterpiece. I am home, and here it is, for you to share in my joy:
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