It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two months since I’ve written anything and longer still since I’ve posted photos. Don’t mistake this for not having made photographs, believe me, I certainly have been. I’ve just been feeling a bit more, reserved, I suppose. I came home with high hopes for making outstanding work. I was burned out mentally from school, and I was looking forward to a summer of working a job, building back up my cash flow and working on photography and just feeling all around good and productive.
The first two weeks of summer break were spent doing basically nothing and sitting around the house. I was waiting for paperwork and screening to clear to start a new job, so I felt somewhat justified in not exerting myself too much, figuring I’d be starting work within a few days (which I thought for the entire two weeks). To make matters worse, I had about $20 to my name, so buying gas to go out and photograph wasn’t exactly a possibility, and there was nothing I felt like photographing within walking distance, at least nothing that wouldn’t feel like a chore to go out and do. So I sat.
A few days before my job started, my dad took pity on me and gave me some money to gas up my car. I used this to go out and hike, simply wanting to make some nice images. I was sort of kicking around the idea of putting together one really nice print portfolio of photos from the summer, or at the very least having a digital set of no more than 20 or so images which would be picked from multiple shoots and represent outstanding work. This was in an effort to move towards more curated and focused work, contrasting my earlier days of trying to suck out as many “passable” shots as possible from every outing. So one shoot passed which I didn’t even edit photos from, and on the second shoot I went on towards the end, I got a decent idea for a photo series.
Now, this is the first time I’ve had a conceptual idea of something that I wanted to express in the context of a series. I think I talked about, way back in the pictures I did of a building going up, wanting to force myself to express something within a series, but not having anything to say. It felt good to find something abstract that I felt was worth trying to capture, and since I was at the very end of a shoot I didn’t have much of a chance to work with the idea, but it excited me. I believe I actually went out the next day or the day after, expressly to shoot images within this idea.
The resultant working series was OK. Although I tried to approach the series in a manner similar to any other material I would shoot, essentially trying to make “pretty” photos that still fit my general idea, I tried some things which I didn’t normally do including shooting artificial things in a natural setting, staging natural objects, including text alongside photographs (appropriated text, not rambling like these posts) and repeating formal/compositional elements through several photographs. While the photo series is a bit scattered, unfocused, muddled, and formally lacking to a certain degree, it was a good experience for me to sort of take these first, wading steps into the tools by which a photographer builds a narrative within a photo series. Just like I’ll sometimes try out a new process in Photoshop with unexpected results, it felt like I was making decisions which nudged the content of the photo series this way or that. These first, stumbling steps are the first towards more confident and bold ones in any medium or practice.
The series I first put together was a far cry from expressing the grace of the ideas that I was working with (which is to be expected, good series take time). Between the critique I sought and my own limited intuition on conceptual nuance in photography, I knew my work was lacking, so I showed it to a few friends and quietly let it sort of drop off my radar. I had planned on working it all summer, but I quickly got busy with commercial photo work and my job, then my family traveled, and I’ve gotten back and lost my taste for the project. I may pick it up at a later date, but without an assignment really compelling me to continue working on it, I have other more compelling things holding my interest at the moment.
On the note of commercial photography work, I did the photography for my old high school’s graduation shortly thereafter. Event photography is something that’s a bit harder to practice, and I haven’t done it professionally for over a year, so I felt a bit rusty. On the bright side, even looking at the photos before editing them, I could tell that two years (I had worked the same event my junior year) of basic improvement in how to make a photograph and better equipment had made a world of difference. The resulting set of photos felt more formally unified, more focused, and all around a better product that I was quite proud of. I went a bit overboard on editing, and with 150 or so photos to edit in the three days before my family left for vacation, in addition to a full time job, I was quite swamped. But once I saw how nice event photos could look with a but of color balancing and dodging and burning in photoshop, I felt like I had to give that level of care to every single photo. I think I’ll need to streamline the process in the future, though…
After that, my family and I traveled out west. It was nice to spend time with them; it felt strangely like a much different dynamic after having been gone for a year and yet entirely the same thing as high school. We stayed at a friend’s cabin in Arizona, camped at the Grand Canyon (where I hiked alone below the rim, an incredible experience), camped at Mesa Verde, then went on to my aunt and uncle’s house in Boulder, CO, and my father, brother and me camped for two nights in Maroon Bells, near Aspen, CO, while my mom stayed back in Boulder with her sisters.
It was an incredible trip to be sure, and it was nice to see the country again while fully ensconced in a photographic mindset. My family has been on two similar trips out west, but being a lot younger then, photography was only a small amusement among many, many other interests and activities for me. Also, although I didn’t make it out to California and Ansel Adams’ stomping ground in the Sierra Nevada range, it’s easy for me to understand how landscape photography sort of got its start in the American west. The natural beauty out there is simply on a different scale than in the east. I got back here and I appreciated the intimate, wet, loud forests. There are bugs and running water and gnats and full deciduous trees blowing in the wind here; the forest is a rich, lush place and the mountains are old and round and beautiful. I love it here. But the Rockies are immense, so tall that they seem almost to loom above you. The Grand Canyon simply seems to be the face of another planet, for a geologic formation on such a scale must surely not exist on Earth. The desert is quiet, it’s dry, it’s contemplative and angular and contrasty. The smell of a pine forest is nuanced and enticing. This is a continent of immense beauty, one region incomparable to the other for fear of missing something so beautifully unique by focusing too closely on any given part of the country.
Needless to say, I took a great deal of photographs, and I’m working on editing them. It is my hope to self publish a print portfolio of sorts when I have access to personal printing in the fall. Stay posted for details on that, as I’ll certainly be posting photos of that on its completion and I may post the photographs from the trip online though I haven’t decided on that yet. I’ll talk more about why I haven’t posted photographs despite making them in a later post: I was going to do it in this one, but it ended up being more of an update and I didn’t want to cram photo philosophy into this one on top of that.
This means that I even have two ideas for posts lined up! So stay tuned. I haven’t gone anywhere, and I’m certainly still making photographs and trying my best to stay on some straight and narrow paths!
Be well, internet.