Wednesday, December 2, 2015

From Landscapes to People

It's strange, what life does to us—and, among many other things, what it did to me.

Here's a classic 'landscape-style (film) picture from years back. I discussed this a little while back, but what matters here is that it summarizes pretty much what attracted me in my environment and caused me to raise a camera to my eyes and take a shot.

Or there's this kind of thing, taken with a 7Mpx Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot; my first digital camera. Like the image above, this one was shot in New Zealand (South Island West Coast). New Zealand is one of those places where the countryside, the coast and what drifts up on the beaches—and what people do with it!—caters for my penchant for this kind of moody shot.

Now, living in Australia, things have changed. It isn't like the misty green New Zealand South Island. So, themes have changed with it. Since I try to keep it moody, I really like the stormy season in Queensland.

And, since I live in south-eastern Queensland, and have spent bouts of day-job work-time in the Brisbane CBD and environs, there's what you might call 'urban' stuff.

At night. 
And daytime.

And, mixed in with that, some sneaky melange of the inanimate and people. (I'll never be able to publish that shot in any commercial context, because I really didn't have the nerve to walk up to these people are ask them to sign model releases! Something told me that wouldn't be a good idea.)

That never was an issue with this shot, of course.

There was a time when people had a very clear place in my photography:
  1. They had to be family or friends.
  2. They didn't really belong into my—well, let's call it 'environmental'—photography.
When I took a picture of driftwood, the subject was the driftwood, and people please keep out of it. I'll happily take a shot of you as well, but not posing with the driftwood, thank you very much.

Except sometimes, like below. This was actually shot where you end up when you get to the end of the path in the photo at the top. But while the subject of the first image was a path through a misty cathedral-like canopy of Macrocarpa trees, here it is the person; who is very close family, so she's firmly in category 1!

I still shoot 'environmental' stuff—landscapes, urban, weather, animals, plants, night skies—as this picture, taken this morning at 5 a.m. outside the back of my house, attests to. When you have a bunch of screeching Rainbbow Lorikeets hanging in droves from the young seed-pods of a palm tree, then I whip out my D610 and shoot them. I took almost 100 shots, occasionally in 3-frames-per-second spray-and-pray mode, because these critters were just all over the place. I still can't decide which of all the shots is the one best capturing the whole madcap event, but I'll figure it out. This is my favorite at the moment. That may change.

But you know what? The thrill is gone. Kinda. Not out of photography, because that's in my blood—just like writing fiction—and always has been since I was an early teen; and that's a few years back now.

But I've shot just about every sunrise and sunset I can shoot. When along comes another one, then maybe out of reflex I shoot it, but it's kinda...well, just another sunrise or sunset. While these may have profound significance for me from what you might call a 'philosophical' point of view, photographically it's kinda "meh."

I don't think I'm 'over' mist rising from forests, fields or bodies of water, because they have a strange deep way of touching me.

And I love fog, because fog is like life. And if you can't figure it out, feel free to read my novel Seladiënna, which kind of explains it all.

I guess a part of me goes into fairytale land; and besides, I have a thing for forests. Or maybe I'm just hoping to take a snap of something coming out of those mists. Reading and writing too many fantasy stories, I guess.

But as for the rest of 'environmental'? It's lost significant luster. And when I see another super-pretty picture of a pier reaching into the distance of overly-long exposed waves into an overly-saturated and maybe HDR-ed evening sky... I don't even look at it anymore. I know where the people who took the pictures come from; I really do. Been there; or somewhere close.

This new thing has been sneaking up on me over the years though, quite without my knowing. I've been trying to figure out why for a while now, ever since I noticed it; and maybe I have. I think it's because of all those novels and screenplays I wrote over the last twenty years or so; and even though I'm currently taking a break from doing it—mainly because there's only so much time in the day, and writing is an extremely anti-social activity—I have been affected in ways I never anticipated. That this should feed into my photographic interests I never expected. But it has.

Stories are always about human beings, because those are actually the only creatures in the whole wide universe that we can truly relate to, and whose troubles and joys we'll ever connect to. A story about something inanimate is not really a 'story' in the sense that a story about a person is one. Neither are stories about animals—or non-human aliens from outer space or wherever—unless we anthropomorphize them.

Which is how I became interested in human beings as subjects in my photography. Which is why nowadays I'm much more interested in shooting portraits, PJ and events that involve people, rather than sunsets and maybe even mist rising from mysterious forests on mountainsides.

And I nowadays I think that photos with human beings in them are just so much more meaningful. As a matter of illustrating this, consider the two images below. The first was shot in the lift lobby of a building I used to work in during a contract assignment. The focus here was on shape, symmetry coldness, with the only object disrupting it being the the lone green Exit sign in the top left.

Next time I took a picture there—about two months later—I asked the young guy who cleaned the lobby every morning before people came in to the offices to pose for me. He didn't mind. We usually chatted briefly whenever we happened to be there at the same place. So, we get this.

Which, do you think, is a more interesting picture? Which one has more meaning and content?

Remember that driftwood up there? Well, nowadays I'd probably be much more interested in using it as a contextual element to take a photo of a person; that is, use environment as a backdrop. For example, look at the shot above with the people sitting on a bench outside a closed adult-shop. Take the people out, and it would still be a cool picture. The sharp shadows and colors themselves make for an interesting composition. But without the people in it, the whole thing would be soul- and pointless; a exercise in composition and not much else. And somehow that's not enough for me anymore.

What happened? As I said, blame it on the storytelling—even though photos don't actually tell stories (something I wrote about at length here).

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