Musings on Photography

Close to Home

Posted in art is a verb, process by Paul Butzi on October 10, 2008

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As I mentioned before, lately it seems that the vast majority of my photographs are getting made within about 300 yards of my home. The area close to the buildings has been planted as gardens, in a sort of vague sense, and I’m finding that I’m spending a lot of time wandering around making photographs of things in the gardens. I think of the gardens as my ‘photograph farm‘.

Sometimes the result reminds me of Doug Plummer’s Stick Pictures. The difference is that I suspect that at some level Doug knows what he’s doing, and I also suspect that I don’t. I’m just hammering away, here, and if you were to look at my contact sheets you’d realize that I haven’t got much of a clue. After doing this for nearly a year, I’m still stumbling around in the dark, groping for the light switch.

After some time I seem to have settled into a bit of a groove. Almost always, I seem to put my old friend the old pre-USM Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro on the 5d. Generally the aperture is set for f/2.8 (wide open). Part of what I am playing with is getting away from the idea that all (or even a large part) of an image should be in focus. And in turn, part of the reason why I seem to have settled on the 100mm Macro is that it has a particularly pleasing (to my eye, at least), smooth out of focus rendering. Beyond that, it seems to have pleasant transitions from being in focus to being out of focus. At f/2.8, there isn’t a whole lot of stuff in focus. Sometimes I end up with just a single point in the entire image in focus.

That’s not a prescription, though. I haven’t set out with those tools and methods looking to see what I could make. Instead I’ve just spent time photographing, switching off lenses as the whim took me, and over time I seem to have settled on that. I’m just slowly trying lots of stuff, and narrowing down on what seems to be working and throwing out things which didn’t seem to work too well.

Colin Jago’s recent posts on audience (here and here have had me pondering what the audience for this stuff might be. From my end, it seems pretty undirected. I just grab the camera and wander around, and I can’t say that I ever plan to exhibit the photos beyond using them the way I do on this blog. And, allow me to remind readers, I have a rather different attitude about the images here on the blog.

They aren’t photos I consider ‘winners’, or at least not all of them are. They’re just picked from the stream of photos I’ve taken. Some of them I don’t like but have a nagging feeling there’s something there I want to puzzle out.

Anyway, this somewhat quirky process has a lot to recommend it. Because I’m not using camera support (!) it often seems that it’s a matter of letting the shutter go as an interesting composition goes past. There’s not a lot of time for attention to edges, and not a lot of time for refining composition like you’d do with view camera. It’s just a matter of getting in close, or perhaps closer still, and when you see something interesting happen, you try to either let the shutter go and else make it happen again so you can catch as it goes past.

I get a lot of wet knees and butts on my pants, from kneeling to get the point of view I want. I’m learning to perform some amazing contortions to get the camera where I want, and I’ve finally learned that it’s ok to just stick the camera (and my head) into a thicket of stuff and see what it looks like. I’m not claiming deep insight here, I’m just reporting what seems to be working.

The interesting part of this experiment has been the return of a sense of exploration that comes with letting go of complete control of everything. Another curious part is that, when I bring things to a halt and head inside, I don’t have a clear idea of what I’ve gotten. When I download the stuff off the CF card, I recognize the stuff, of course. But most of it seems to get made without my putting a whole lot of investment into each individual exposure, so I don’t remember the individual exposures. This makes reviewing a day’s take sort of exciting.

2 Responses

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  1. JH said, on October 10, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Very nice description of your photography process. And I like your style (if indeed it is a style) of photography, many of your photos are puzzles worth returning to.

  2. Doug Plummer said, on October 10, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Without trying to put a value judgment on this, there is a consequence to doing this sort of work digitally rather than with film. The lengthy and tedious process of editing and looking at work in a film and print workflow means you have to know how to choose what to work on. And understand somewhere the why and the trajectory of the body of work to organize your decisions.

    I am taking a lot more photographs now than ever before. I still work in that unconscious “grok the brush” mode, and I have my own “photograph farms” where I also get my feet and pants wet (I’ve lately rediscovered rain pants and rubber boots, which lets me get deeper into the whatever). And I have less understanding of the trajectory of the work than I used to, because my feedback loop is so much shorter. I’m starting to think it requires an external format, the rigor of a publishable sequence or the demand of an exhibit, to tease out a frame within which to orient the search.


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