It’s that time of year again, when I just don’t feel like taking photos because the light’s so uninspiring and there’s so little colour around. Fortunately I’ve still got a backlog of pictures from just before we moved, and by the time I’ve got this lot sorted out spring will be beginning to make an appearance and I’ll get my mojo back. There are snowdrops and crocus out already and I can see the buds beginning on the trees, so it won’t be long now.
I’ve written about St Dunstan’s church before (here) and it will always be one of my favourite places to go in London’s City area. These will be the last shots of it you’ll see for quite a while – I don’t know when I’ll be back there again. I was lucky enough to get some amazing light the last time I was teaching there back in December, and these shots are the result. Do you find there are certain places that you just keep going, time and time again, and never tire of photographing? For me, it’s been this place and Canterbury Cathedral – something about them keeps me coming back for more. I’m sure access has something to do with it, as the Cathedral was almost on my doorstep, and when I was teaching in London we nearly always went to St Dunstan’s, but it’s not the whole story. I think there are some places that seem to encourage the art of seeing – where you simply see more photographically than you do in other places – and I’m sure they’re very specific to each person. I’m wondering which places where I’m living now will become my new favourites.
I’m so annoyed at myself right now. So many of my recent photos have some slight camera shake in them – it’s very slight, and you probably wouldn’t spot it at the size and resolution on here but I know it’s there and it spoils the image for me. I used to pride myself on having a very steady hand but at the moment you’d think I’d been hitting the bottle on a regular basis.
It’s got me thinking about the whole issue of sharpness. It seems to me that if you’re setting out to take a photo that relies on sharpness, then it should be perfectly sharp. But unless you have very bright light, that really means using a tripod, and I hate them. I hate them for a number of reasons but the most important one to me is that it takes away the spontaneous nature of shooting. I took up photography in part because I’d spent too much of my life being academic and precise and terribly, terribly careful. I wanted to break away from that. I wanted to work intuitively, move fluidly, and lose myself in the flow of it all. For me, getting all finicky about perfect sharpness is too much like being back in academia where everything felt so restricted and lacking in life and joy – no matter how interesting it was on an intellectual basis. To use a tripod on a regular basis would take away much of the joy that photography gives me, but I don’t want to take poor shots either………
I’ve always been very drawn to any kind of lo-fi photography. I like the way you never know quite what you’re going to get and how there’s always a chance of a serendipitous accident that turns out to be your best shot. And I like the softness and mystery the lo-fi approach creates. One of my recently discovered favourite photographers is Susan Burnstine; she makes her own (very lo-fi) cameras out of bits and pieces she picks up at car boot sales. The resulting images are dreamy, mysterious, and full of story. Sometimes digital can seem too hard-edged, too bright, too contrasty, for me. I know it doesn’t have to be, but it so often is.
I used to love my Lensbaby for its lo-fi qualities but I pretty much stopped using it, largely because I got such a rollicking when I used it for a whole assignment. I can see now that my assignment photos did leave a lot to be desired, but I still don’t think that was the fault of the lens. Lensbaby images can be a bit gimmicky, it’s true, but when they’re done properly they can also be very effective. However, it does have a very distinctive and identifiable look and that’s not always what I want, either.
I’m aware I’m rambling on here, so let me finish up and get to the point. I feel there’s a decision I have to make – go for sharp pictures, bite the bullet and use a tripod, or go in a different direction towards a more lo-fi approach, where lack of sharpness isn’t an issue in the same way. I like the second of these better, but I’m going to have to think hard about how I want to do that.
In the meantime, I took these once I got finished teaching in London at the weekend. They were shot in one of my favourite places, St Dunstan’s-in-the-East. The light was pretty dull so I concentrated on taking little abstract-y shots. Some are sharp, some aren’t………….but you might not notice.