Musings on Photography

Slowing Down/Speeding Up

Posted in art is a verb by Paul Butzi on July 15, 2007


This past week here in Carnation has been hot.  Not just hot, but hot and humid – a combination which puts my body into automatic go slow mode.  How I survived growing up on the east coast, where summers are always hot and humid, I’ll never know.  But the point is that for the past week, I’ve been trying to keep the activity level low, and that’s left me plenty of time to think.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, part of what I’ve been thinking about is slowing down.  And in one of those delightful synchronistic events, I came across this excellent video of a lecture by Carl Honore.  For those of you who are too impatient to watch a video that’s 19 minutes and 26 seconds long, I’ll give you the brief version – faster is not necessarily better.   

That’s been my conclusion for a while.  There are lots of things in life where taking a slower, more deliberate approach improves the experience and the outcome.

Paradoxically, sometimes slowing down requires speeding up.  What I have in mind, here, is speeding up along the lines of the Shakers’ attitudes toward things.  The Shakers were early practitioners of deliberate simplicity.  But while it’s possible to pursue simplicity by avoiding technologic advancement, the Shakers took the opposite tack, inventing an incredible stream of labor saving devices (including the clothespin, the circular saw, the flat broom).  They designed rooms and furniture to reduce the labor needed to clean the room.  Higher efficiency of labor, the Shakers reasoned, left more time for the important things (like prayer).

That’s like my view about efficiency when working a large format camera (or any camera, for that matter).  The more time taken up by camera fiddling, the less time we have for attending to what we’re photographing.  More efficient cameras and more efficiency in our handling the mechanical details of making exposures lets us have more time for making the artistic decisions that matter.

 All that’s fine and good, but there’s another way of slowing down, and that’s to set the camera up, and just make long exposures.  The photo above is a case in point, being a fairly long exposure (working from memory, the exposure was tens of seconds long).  The delightful part is that the wonderful iridescent pattern in the center of the frame wasn’t visible when viewing the scene in real time.  I didn’t know it was there; I made the photo because I liked the arrangment of rocks, and got a pleasant surprise when I developed the negative and found the long exposure made this pattern visible.

All this touches on the wide versus deep thing.  It seems, at first blush, like slowing down means that we’ll get less done, but in practice it doesn’t work out that way.  It seems like moving more slowly means we should see less, since less of the world passes in front of us over a given time.  But what happens is that moving more slowly, we see more deeply.  And it seems like making longer exposures should mean that we just have fewer exposures, and that we won’t get anything from the longer exposures.  And yet, sometimes long exposures reveal things that short exposures won’t.

4 Responses

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  1. Gary Nylander said, on July 15, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    Over the years I have used various methods to help me slow down , when I was using 35mm film cameras, way back when, my cameras had a detachable motor drives , ( I had the Nikon F2. F3 and FM2 ) for my personal shooting on my days off I would remove the motor drive, and shoot single frame, this helped improve my timing and there was not the temptation to burn through a lot of film had the motor drive been attached to the camera, I also liked the simplicity and feel of the camera with out a motor drive. I know now a days it a lot different with digital cameras being all in one with with built in drives.

  2. Martin Doonan said, on July 16, 2007 at 12:47 am

    This puts me in mind of a phrase my Gran used to use all the time “more haste, less speed”, usually as a form of self-chastisement. What she meant was in the rush to go fast (the haste) we actually end up going slower. Being more deliberate/methodical (apparantly moving slow) actually means we get done quicker.
    I like the Shaker idea: economy of effort leading to more time for other stuff.

  3. Gordon said, on July 17, 2007 at 9:05 am

    This thread puts me in mind of the theatre images of Hiroshi Sugimoto, where an entire movie is captured on one photograph. That lead me to find this really enjoyable collection of his images on the web. I’d only ever seen the theatres & seascapes before.

  4. Mike said, on July 27, 2007 at 10:34 am

    Gotta love those Shakers — celibacy as a prime belief and the order dies out for lack of recruits!

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