My photographic mojo’s been missing for quite a while, and although I’ve now got it back, I’m still pondering something that bothered me a lot during the time it went AWOL. One of the reasons I felt no interest in carrying my camera around with me was that I kept asking myself what I was photographing for? If it wasn’t to display the images in some way, or be part of an assignment or a commission, or to have some kind of ultimate purpose, then why was I doing it? A while ago I would have answered that it was the process itself that was the thing, and I still stand by that, but lately I’ve been feeling the need for it also to have some kind of purpose.
I’ve got so used to working in themes and creating bodies of work for assignments, that I’ve mostly lost interest in the one-hit-wonder style of photography – you know, where you take a great shot but it stands entirely on its own without any relation to anything else you’ve taken. I’ve got to the point now where I have lots of photographs of most types of things and I ask myself if I really need another macro flower shot. But if that flower macro was designed to be part of a series, then it becomes greater than the sum of the parts and a lot more interesting. This is quite a radical change in how I used to think, and I guess it’s one that every photographer reaches at some stage in their career.
This is all fine and dandy, but the trouble is that it takes away a bit from the simple pleasure of wandering around and shooting whatever comes up. I do sometimes think that increased sophistication – in any field – has its own rewards but also leads to a certain loss of sheer and simple pleasure. When I started drinking wine in my teens, I thought Liebfraumilch and Lambrusco were wonderful; now I really wouldn’t thank you for them. My taste and appreciation of wine has developed over the years and, though I’m by no means a connoisseur, I can tell a good wine from a bad one. Which means of course that I don’t enjoy the bad ones any more and I can’t help feeling this is a bit of a shame, while at the same time not wishing to be that uninformed, novice wine-drinker again. In the same vein, I now know better than to wear those leopard-print leggings or the gold cowboy boots that I thought were just wonderful at the time, which means I look a whole lot more tastefully dressed these days but don’t enjoy my clothes nearly so much.
I was reminded of all this when I went to a new photography club that recently started up locally. I’ve always avoided photography societies like the plague because – and I know I generalise, but it’s largely true – they’re full of men of a certain age who mostly want to compare equipment and indulge in competitions that limit the concept of a good photograph to very narrow parameters. This group was different, consisting of people about half my age and being aimed at the more creative side of things, with its main purpose being simply to have some fun. But it seems I’ve lost that simple fun thing, and I couldn’t get terribly enthused about what we were doing.
Being the first meeting, it was all a bit vague what we should do and eventually we decided to go out and look for the colour orange. I can’t quite remember how orange came up; I think we thought it was unusual enough to make it a bit of a challenge. It was nice being out on a shoot with other enthusiastic people, but I realised pretty quickly that I’m not interested in shooting orange things for the sake of it – I’m really not. Had I had some kind of passion for orange, or some other non-arbitrary reason to shoot orange, then it might have been different but I didn’t. Had I been trying to develop my colour awareness, then that might have changed things for me, but I don’t feel that need any more. Had I wanted to show the use of orange and its implications in western society then it might also have been different, but I didn’t. In other words, I found it rather empty and meaningless and not very interesting, and I also found it a bit sad that I felt like that. None of these shots really hang together in any other way than the colour, and it seems that’s not enough for me any more. No, for me the future really isn’t going to be orange.