Out of Bounds
So a few years ago I went back to Sicily for the fourth time. I went during Easter, which was the time I had visited on my earlier trips, so I was returning to look for a specific thing, a specific time, etc. The work I’d made on the earlier trips is some of my best, not solely based on what the pictures look like, but also on the experience of making the images. Sicily is a wonderful place. Unique to my experience. And the folks I and spent time with are wonderful as well. All around, the kind of experience that we photogs dream about.
So I went back, but instead of doing what I had done in the past, shoot 35mm, Leica with Tmax 3200, I instead added another style to my holster. 645, Tri-x, black and white. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done this.
These are a few of the images I made with this new approach, and some of them I like, but in the end it just watered down the look, and in my mind watered down the work I had done before. Again, it’s not that I don’t like these images, but they aren’t as good as my other work, and they are also not in the same vein as my other work. You can’t use a 645 camera in the same way you use a Leica. It just doesnt’ work that way. It’s like trying to use a Mamiya 7 or 6 in the same way you use a Leica. It doesn’t work. I love the Mamiya, but it’s slower, and larger, and bulkier, and you have fewer frames per roll, and all of that effects the outcome. One isn’t better or worse, just different.
The Leica is like a gray t-shirt. Nobody notices. You wear a gray t-shirt and you are just part of the background. You carry a Pentax 645 and people see you coming a mile away. I think what happened was I got enamored by what I was seeing around me in the photo world. I look at a lot of work. I go to a lot of galleries. Much of what I was seeing was medium format, low grain, portraiture. I bought into the charade.
I also shot color 645, which was a complete waste of time. I haven’t even SCANNED those images, and probably never will. At least I can’t remember scanning them??? It’s not to say the trip was a waste, they never are. Even if my gear had been stolen and I was unable to make a single frame, trips are always worth it. I can always make something from it.
But this trip taught me something. This trip taught me to forget what I know and do what comes natural. It always seems as if finance is a key issue when you first get started in photography. You are restricted to minimal equipment, so you just make do. You learn to make what you have work in all situations. Sometimes your rig works great, and other times not so great, but you truly learn your limits. It’s like wanting a road bike, a mountain bike, a beach cruiser and a time trial bike, but you only have enough money for one, so you buy the hybrid and make it work. In my Sicily situation, from now on, when I venture back, and I do plan on going back, I’ll know for sure what my rig will be. Leica, TMZ.
And when I write this I feel a sense of relief because I know how great it is to work this way. Small and quiet. Regardless of what is hot in the gallery world, or editorial world, or photography world in general, I’ll do what I do. And speaking of that, you can’t find anything LESS popular at the moment than grainy, 35mm. HUGE color portrait series are the “new documentary” so what I’m doing might not have a home at all in today’s photo world, but I’m totally fine with that. Things change. Slowly perhaps, but all it takes is for a few, and I mean very few, key players to suddenly shift their view, and the entire industry will change. How do I know? I’ve been watching it happen for 15 years.
I don’t even own the 645 gear anymore, but I wish I still did. I wouldn’t use it for my doc work, but for stock it works great. Oh well, live and learn. So nowadays when I think of new projects, I often ask myself, “Okay, how are you going to do this?” There is always the urge to do too much, to use too many looks, to get too complicated. All those voices in your head, and all those features in the magazines, which all seem to look the same during their given time, pull on your inner strings. Today’s feature of choice is the color portrait paired with the urban landscape void of people. Check out most doc outlets and you’ll see this style over and over. Frankly, it’s an easy style, allowing the photographer to craft a body of work in a very short time. Perfect for today’s’ “right now” market. But that’s not what I do. I spend more time, get less, and make pictures that many people might consider odd. Isn’t this a strange world?
So when I look at these images, I’m left with little passion. It’s odd to feel that way about your own images, but it happens, and it has taught me another valuable lesson. Sometimes you DON’T get what your looking for. I’m okay with that. A lot of photographers are not. It’s why newspaper photographers get fired for setting up images. It’s why photojournalists get in trouble for manipulating their images. It’s why magazines get in trouble for manipulating their cover pics to add impact or enhance corporate policy. Sometimes you just don’t get what you want, and this reality is really hard for some folks to handle. Photography as a profession can be brutal, and your typically judged by your most recent work. Win a Pulitzer on Monday and shoot pet of the week on Tuesday, and a lot of photographers will be talking about how lame your dog shots were. That’s just the way it is. But for me, when I don’t get something, I don’t feel down, I actually feel more driven. In fact, the drive can completely take over. Fixate much? And until the day I return to the scene of the crime, my mind is thinking about what I missed, about what I could have had. And this is what I feel when I see these Sicily images.
Next year I’ll be in Peru during this time, perhaps with a few people who are reading this right now, so it won’t be until 2011 before I return to Sicily. So now I wait and wonder.
Oh, if you want to see my original work, look here www.milnorpictures.net The first story.