photography, photograph, wouter brandsma, black and white, light, shadow, light and shadows, stroll photography, pentax, pentax k-3

More on expectations or the lack of it

2014, photograph

photography, photograph, wouter brandsma, black and white, light, shadow, light and shadows, stroll photography, pentax, pentax k-3

I walked home tonight without my camera. Early March, but while the sun sets in it was still able to warm my face. No wind, the ear plugs bring the mellow tones of Formidable by Stromae into me. My thinking followed the gentle rhythm. I know that there are doubts within me, but life feels grant too. Especially now, especially now.

Oh yeah, it got me thinking. No, I don’t set resolutions for a new year. I don’t really have plans, no photography projects in mind. I got advices from others to change, thinking my photography was in decline. At some point though I started to believe so too. I needed a different pace, back to landscapes. In fact, I thought a dSLR would fit me again. Ricoh was so kind to sent me a loaner, a new Pentax K-3. They thought I would feel out of place with that camera. So right they were. The K-3 is a wonderful camera, felt solid, large viewfinder too, but all this technology felt like a wall around me. It blocked my view. The camera felt like all the doubts I carry with me. This was like weight lifting. I like it when a camera becomes an extension. Hell no, I didn’t need the change. I just wanted to photograph, or at least I thought I wanted to. I admit it felt like a lot more was going on though.

I felt tired, left clueless without questions. No curiosity to look differently at things around me. No camera or suggestion could change that. Truth be told, currently I don’t really care about photography. Seen it, done that, bin there before. I really don’t care about the greatest cameras, I hate the emphasize on image quality. Photography can so much be a stupid male thing. For your worry, that little Ricoh GR thingy is just fine for me. Also the 28mm perspective is all I need. I shoot black & white when I want to, even if it is digital. Don’t care about film. Believe in what you do, that is fine. For the rest though I just don’t care.

I care how you are, how you feel and what you are up too. And all I want to do is my own thing…. When I feel the need to do so, just when I want to. I want to be with my wife and kids. I want to stroll, subconsciously observing without the need to capture. Moments last longer then that, even without that instant “click”. And there is no click now, but all I want is connecting… again.

I met Rafael from Spain in Amsterdam. We knew each other for a while through my blog, twitter and mail exchanges. We walked and talked all day. We spoke extensively about photography, life and uncertainties. We visited the William Klein exhibition at Foam and had a lunch overlooking the IJ. The light sparkled, was intensive, and brought meaning to our discussions. We both took no photographs while strolling the Amsterdam streets. Interesting to learn how he engaged in photography and how he tries to find purpose for it, a traveler driven by curiosity. I’m probable more a traveler without traveling. I travel mentally instead of physically, I guess.

Photography is not a process of understanding technique and technology and using it wisely. No, it has become a very subjective, personal process. A process of feeling. I don’t want to be bordered with editing large amount of photographs. When a subject is interesting, or at least that is my experience, the first photograph is almost always the best. The brief moment was caught driven by a feeling. Every other photograph you make of the same subject is often just rationalizing what you quickly felt and see. I don’t really understand rationalizing photography or art for that matter in general. Maybe the word process is even wrong to describe or understand how I photograph. A process somehow assumes there is a set of steps to produce something.

Maybe I’m a bit stressed and uncertain about what I want to do photographically. I liked working on my book even though it took me so long. In a way finishing the book felt like an attempt to close a chapter. I wonder though whether I am ready to close that chapter and start a new one. Maybe this time is an interlude for me. I just don’t know. I know for sure though that I don’t want to push it. No attempts to try new things. Making sure I add no pressure. I have to avoid the “need” to photograph. I think I never overcame the loss of many of my photographs a couple of years ago. I never was able to make that decision myself, instead it happened suddenly and unexpectedly.

photography, photograph, wouter brandsma, black and white, light, shadow, light and shadows, stroll photography, pentax, pentax k-3

I realize that all this writing just goes up and down and back and forth. And it feels unstructured, but it kind of reminds me how I look at photography right now and what the internal debate is that rages within me.

The thing just is that for sure photography has been a playful thing for a while. Something that might sound familiar to you. I loved the gear, the technique. I read a lot about exposing properly, genres, and all. I was young when I started and while I had my hiatus in photography too, it still was often in my mind. And it was always a joy picking it up again. I pushed, I failed, I gained, I learned. It has been so for many years. I’m talking like 20 years ago.

When I picked up the GR1 at the end of 1996 I wanted to free myself, but had no clue how to do so. This continued for a couple of years until film just got too expensive for me and too many other things were on my mind. It was around 2003/2004 I picked up photography again. Within a few years it took a completely different path. Through the eyes of my son with autism it drove my curiosity, provided answers to many new questions, and allowed me to balance myself. It really helped me. It was however a drain too. It took a lot of energy from me. The photography got very personal, became a visual diary. Consciously and subconsciously. Now I learned that curiosity isn’t endless and that the quest for answers can be relentless. I realize that sometimes the treasures are covered by the signs of times. The glory, tears, laughter, and pain are still ready to be revealed. Digging it up just doesn’t feel easy though, it never was.

Now it isn’t all darkness. I don’t need to forget that. Without that little box in front of me I see my kids grow. I love their achievements. Their proudness, happiness, and growing self confidence. I love it how the days awake earlier and enlighten my return home after a working day. Reading books about Europe’s past, listening to Stromae. Went with a friend to a photography exhibition were three of his photographs hang. I felt proud for him and I enjoyed the discussions we had prior to that selecting these photographs. It humbled me when Rafael told me I inspired him and the long conversation we had in Amsterdam helped me to keep my passion for photography sparkling, no matter if I will take photographs or not.

It feels like there is a lot of unfinished business. Some things just feel very definite, or at least to me. Like a book, an exhibition. I’m trying to find a sense how I can continue to do what I love to do while releasing previous work in a very fixed and irreversible form. Easing my own expectations and knowing that not everything should be perfect. There are some things you rather keep for yourself, but it does feel liberating writing this and expressing my doubts and concerns.

Things change for the better or worse and driven by curiosity, anxiety, doubts, love and challenges (I probably forget so many other emotions, but these first came to my mind) it allows us to adapt quickly, fluidly, slowly, forcefully or just not. I don’t need to find new challenges, I don’t need to get out of my “comfort zone”, I don’t need to learn new techniques or genres. I can become better at so many other things, but don’t feel the urge to become a better photographer. Especially when I don’t really consider myself a photographer. Instead of trying to understand photography I rather prefer to focus on making photographs instead. And maybe that is the benefit of my doubts too.

Jamie Piller shared a link with me about a TED talk by Paula Scher on great design is serious, not solemn. It sums many of my points up. You can check it here.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma

52 thoughts on “More on expectations or the lack of it

  1. Great post, really enjoyed reading your thoughts, the twists and turns of what is out there…and mostly I thought your last sentences were perfect: “Instead of trying to understand photography I rather prefer to focus on making photographs instead. And maybe that is the benefit of my doubts too.” Love the use of light & feeling in your two incredible shots as well

    1. I guess the essence of light and feeling ius what really matters in photography. That is something we can relay to despite not always immediately understanding it.

  2. Wouter, well said… AGAIN!
    So often you write what is rumbling around untamed in my head. Today’s post gave words to many of my thoughts. Thank you.
    I’ll add, for me, one more word to your list: curiosity, anxiety, doubts, challenges, and love.

  3. A very thoughtful and insightful piece Wouter, love the first image, you keep on looking for those moments, they are sure to come

  4. Ik kan paragrafen schrijven over deze woorden, jouw gedachten, maar dat doe ik niet. Ik kan je in ieder geval zeggen dat je woorden mij inspireren en ik er een vorm van hoop in terug vind. Ik heb geen kunstacedemie genoten, ken alle technieken van het vak niet, maar fotografie inspireert me en maakt me een blij mens. Is dat dan niet genoeg?

    1. Als je speelt meen je wat je doet, zoals een kind serieus speelt en wij als volwassenen plechtig (maar niet echt menend) kunnen mee doen. Inspireren, blij van worden, dat is spelen. Dat is alles wat nodig is Mariska.

  5. I think photography and life is first about observation and connection. Sometimes the camera blocks the observation and connection instead of adding to it. Stepping out from behind it will enrich life and ultimately may come back to enrich photographs and art. But if it only enriches life–it is still a beautiful thing. If the new-found connection is not shared visually, it will be shared some other way, so nothing lost there, I think. Enjoy your days, Wouter. They are all precious.

    1. I don’t know if photography is first about observation and connection. I think it can be so much, but also very meaningless. When does it enrich life and when does it become boring? A friend shared with me a link about serious versus solemn that probably sums it all up (I added a link below this blog post).

      1. I will check it out. My point was really that you can’t have photography without life and it’s more important to observe and connect that to take pictures. If pictures happen too, that hopefully they will capture some of the wonders that you connect with in life.

        1. I understand you, but I wonder when you don’t have a life. That is a completely subjective occurance and can happen to anyone. And I don’t know if that will lead to none photographs.

          1. Good thoughts. I think artists and photographers do their works for many reasons, and you’re right that it is highly subjective. It does seem some famous photographers photographed solitude and others shared photos of events and people and things that seem highly social. You said at one point that everyone is different, and I can agree on that, and I appreciate the variety.

  6. Really beautiful images, both of them – makes me want to go and make pictures on the country side and not just in the city. And yeah, wonderful last sentence.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and lovely pics, by the way). Photography means different things to different people, and sometimes to the same person but at a different time in his/her life. Some use it to record/document, others to communicate/express their ideas and sentiments, and then there are some who make photos simply because they enjoy the process of doing so. I think all three reasons apply to me currently and each influence the type of photos I make. It’s nice to not have to think so much (or consciously) when it comes to making pictures 🙂

  8. Hey, Wouter, it certainly doesn’t sound like you don’t care about photography. What it does sound like is that you don’t care much what anybody else thinks about your photography, which is maybe a good and natural evolution, but also a side effect of the huge, huge noise chamber of the internet where everybody is a photographer, everybody wants everybody else to tell them how great they are, and even then it disintegrates into who’s toy is bigger and better. Or maybe I’m projecting my own feelings on you. Either way it’s pretty clear your a far more inspirational part of the photo-blogosphere than the legions of gear heads, because you speak honestly, you photograph honestly, oh, and your photos are gorgeous.

    Oh, and thanks for introducing me to Stromae.. having grown up near Brussel, it brings back memories. From my brief 5 minute encounter on YouTube he seems like a Jacques Brel for the 21st century. Formidable!

    1. I think you hit a soft spot David. I’m trying to find a way how to share my photography after a couple of years blogging and using predominantly flickr in the past. I don’t like the screaming and shouting. I want to make it small and honest. I rather have less traffic and comments on my blog, but feeling free to share my photographs than prolifically writing about gear and telling how cool everything is.

      And you didn’t know Stromae? Oh my. Even more funny that you mention Jacquel Brel since everyone compares him to Jacquel Brel.

  9. “Small and honest”. A lovely phrase and a marvellous concept. And I am with you, Wouter, I also dislike the screaming and shouting that accompanies photography and photographers these days. The Internet has bestowed upon us a great many gifts but at the cost of the old-fashioned values of courtesy and civilty. I would have loved to have been in the background, listening to the discussion you had with Rafael.

    You have lost me on Stromae. I will give my age away and confess to being a Grateful Dead man. I will check out Stromae on YouTube.

    As ever, a pleasure to read your thoughts, Wouter.

    1. Don’t worry about your age. The Rolling Stones are still touring. A kid can now visit his grandfather and say he his going to a Rolling Stones concert and his grandfather replying that there was a similar named band too when he was young 😉

      Truth is, the screaming and shouting has changed the way people share there work nowadays. Especially the last three to four year things gone pretty wild. It lacks the honesty and vulnerable desire that in my opinion makes up a lot in photography.

  10. Interesting to read the way your mind is running around at the moment.

    I hate the whole concept of newest, latest, best …..gear….and I’m pretty much a beginner in some ways (and certainly don’t know anything about editing and all the technicalities of my DSLR).

    I certainly can’t keep up with all this sharing & photography sites. My 500X account remains dormant after just 6 to 7 uploads.

    Hope you find some clarity & direction in your musings.

  11. Hi, I really enjoyed your post. I recently feel that I have been born a sort of obligation to take nice photographs after getting some techniques.. But you reminds me of the moment when I got my own camera a few years ago. “Takes photographs of what I want when I want”. That’s enough.

    PS. I like your photos.

  12. I agree with David Mantripp. Due to the daily web overload of images and opinions, we might question our own skills, style, gear, workflow, commitment, whatever. That’s one of the reasons why I ditched Flickr, Twitter and guest blogging on a photography blog, and I hardly comment on the few blogs I still like (as you may have noticed…).

    I stopped caring about what the photo community is doing or discussing. More than ever, for me taking pictures is just therapy. For my body (I need the mild exercise), and my mind (it clears my head). That’s it. Just walking around and shooting whatever I like (and sometimes I don’t shoot anything, which is fine too). And I don’t call myself a “photographer” anymore, because it comes with an attitude I really don’t care for.

    1. In essence photography feels like a therapy for me too. Sometimes a therapy works better than other times though. It all depends on your mind set. You made conscious decisions to regain focus on your own photography instead. More should do so too Robert.

  13. Just you, your rhythm, the lens & a horizon ahead. And though it feels like preaching to the choir: I found out that less is always more. If I need to slow down I have the chance to adjust what is worth telling and showing. And at the end of the day that is all that counts. Things changes, like life & the roads I wander on change and so does my storytelling. Looking forward to more of those slowly crafted stories of yours, my friend. And this is another beautiful essay, Wouter!

    All the best & safe travels, Fritsch.

    1. Thank you Fritsch. Slowly light is returning. For the first time I have some ideas again. Just like you quoted on your photography blog: “sad songs keep the devil away.”

  14. It’s just too easy to shoot a photograph when it’s digital. I don’t think we know how to treasure each photo we take anymore. It’s easy to shoot, look, edit, share, delete, and yea it’s free. I was playing with an Fuji Instax and though I was just hanging out with my girlfriend. It’s more thoughtful on every shot taken and yea it’s not free. Perhaps it’s a reinforcement when film is not free and scarce as it is. It’s like when we were kids writing from pencil to pen. Just something I was thinking about when reading your post. 🙂

    I also face struggle. I pause, and think. When I decide if I should be shooting, I just take my camera out and get going. And you’re right, we should not shoot because the need of it. It’s the impulsion i believe got us going again.

    1. For me it has nothing to do with shooting digitally. I still don’t take many photographs. I do think there is a lot more noise today and that I like to get away from it. Like you I want the impulsion. Just the honesty, the care.

  15. Hope you don’t mind…after reading this entry of yours I jotted down some random thoughts I have on the subject myself and decided to share them with you…feel free to delete this if it’s too much…

    Process searches for a path. This kills freedom. I like to think of doubt as interior weather. Storms, rain come to wash things away, to cleanse. Sun warms, comforts. Wind. Depression. 

    Examine where I am. Can’t say where I’d like to be. Doing that would lock me into some ‘known’ future.
    Words. Ideas. These aren’t ‘the thing’.

    Photography doesn’t have to fit into a category like ‘street’ ‘landscape’ etc. I use the camera to create, to look, to question.

    I like what Duane Michaels says about photography and how he used a camera to work.

    Dropping all the language, the certainty, the knowledge of yesterday is hard to do. Our brains seem to be impossible to shut off.

    Sometimes I have to stop. Look. I go through this a few times each year. Examine where I am. It starts with this feeling of stasis. I get uncomfortable with what I’m doing. Get a sense of inertia. It starts slowly, in the distance and then becomes obvious, clear. Periods of doubt, questioning my work, my thinking. It comes and goes in waves. Interior debate. What have I learned in the past year? What have I been doing? Then digesting it all. Moving on. Maybe the work will be less now, or more, but I know it’ll still be me, mine, at the end of the day. (I wrote this on my own blog, about myself).

    Something I grew up with in the 60’s. When a musician heard so and so had just released a new album he wanted to know if the artist ‘had something to say’. 

    So, I ask myself this question about my photography work. Do I have something to say? What are all these photos for?

    Do I need for my photographs to have some purpose? Do they need to be for something?

    Humans on this planet give themselves goals, things to accomplish, values. This drives desire day to day. We believe in a god or religion or work and it gives direction. I question this man made direction, these human values every day.

    I don’t fear doubt. I like to keep it close. I examine it as one gazes upon a favorite painting or sculpture. I embrace my doubt as others embrace religion or music and with at least as much fervor.

    embrace your doubt…a confident man is a dead human being (think i got this years ago from krishnamurti and it sticks with me)…

    Ok. Writing about this is a purge. It lightens the psychological load. Don’t stop, Wouter. I feel like a passenger on your interior journey. I also really like how ‘you see’.

    kind regards,

    ps. Paula Scher is a friend. We worked together years ago. And the ted talk you linked is a good example of the flow of work over a long period of years. How we change. Grow. Doubt. Stagnate. Move on. Stay the same.

  16. realize I’ve commented using some old sign in via wordpress…my name is morris taub and hopefully this short entry will give you current info so you know who i am…

    1. Thank you Morris for your extended comment. There is absolutely no reason for me to delete anything of it. This internal debate is an integral part of an artist I believe. Sometimes it preoccupies my thoughts so much though that it stops my productive possibilities and willingness. When so much is going on in my mind, most not even photography related, it makes me halt.

      I don’t try to think about the value of photography in general and my photography in particular. Know I am asked to do my first exhibition. Thankfully still small, but working on it somehow gives me a feeling of ending something. A feeling however that I just really don’t want to have. It feels like there are no goals now, but there is no sense of accomplishment either. The feeling isn’t necessarily empty, but not far from shallow too.

      Through music and reading I am currently finding my light again. Looking for remaining or new questions. The curiosity will return some day. I just need to get passed the BS.

      Again, thank you Morris for passing by and sharing your thoughts too.

  17. That’s great news about the first exhibit. Enjoy. I wish you luck. I really enjoy your photographic work and hope that the public seeing your exhibit will too.

    That sense of ‘no goals’ is something I’ve often felt. In the end, for me, it’s like morals. Ideas handed down over the generations. Values we ‘should’ have. Things repeated so often they seem like truth. We hardly question them. But I do.

    I have the same problems with galleries. They like to see series work. They like to see some order to my images. They want a hook, something to sell to their customers. I understand the business relevance. But as I work there is no order, no series, no hook. Life is messy and sometimes joyful and sometimes painful. It’s just plain messy and a big unintelligible collage of a million things going on. The neat ‘solution’ a gallery owner wants is a human invention, like a goal.

    Like you I find my way out of the darkness via other stimulation. It’s often paintings and reading. I like studying the light and form painters show us. Color too. Poetry and short stories are my preference for literature. I’m a terribly slow reader so novels are rare these days. I did just read some non fiction, Darkness Visible by William Styron.

    There’s also a bit of cycling and running a few times a week. I need this to balance the overflow of energy I sometimes feel. But it helps, to run down a path between the trees, the path dappled with shadow and sun. Take me away from the day to day grind of things when it gets to be too much.

  18. Sketching would be something you might consider at this time. Get a small notebook of any kind and a pencil and pen, and just draw what you see. It slows you down and you can really be in the moment when sketching. When you look back at your notebooks, you recall everything of that day when seeing what you drew. It’s a much better recall than a photograph taken. I think it’s because you’re in the moment.

      1. Yeah, me too. Just started. I actually purged some money on myself to take Danny Gregory’s Sketchbook Skool class. Kind of expensive at $99, but the inspiration of 6 weeks looking into how other artists work in their sketchbooks has inspired me to start drawing again, JUST for me. My problem is a judge too much. I do that with my photos too, but more so with drawings because I am such a beginner artist. But I must say that any drawing I do on any given day gives me more satisfaction than photography. Maybe that’s why Henri Cartier Bresson switched back to sketching when he was older. I am very inspired by it. Keep at it, it helps with the the angst to create. LOL! And I don’t care if it looks like shit, as long as I try.

        1. That is great. You do color drawings too? For me drawing involves greater freedom and less expectations. Now you’ve pushed me over the edge. I make a sketch tomorrow.

  19. I use watercolor and color pencils, just really cheap stuff. I want to try acrylic. Mostly I just use a black pen. I don’t erase any lines. I just keep drawing. I’m not very good, but again ,I don’t care. It’s a process of slowing down and letting the judgement go. The slower time to really look makes all the difference.

    1. I was never fond of using colors in my drawings. Going B&W with my photography was like an almost natural thing to do. I didn’t erase any lines too and just used the black pen to accentuate outlines and shadows. Thank you for sharing.

  20. “I don’t want to be bordered with editing large amount of photographs. When a subject is interesting, or at least that is my experience, the first photograph is almost always the best. ”

    I will take that as a lesson the next time I am out shooting. As my hobby grows and I become more interested in the art, I find I’m still spoiled by exploiting a moment and just juicing it for all it’s worth. I’m afraid I’ll find a shot, an accidental one, that I like much better.

    Lovely style. Glad I found your site 🙂

  21. You took the words right out of my mouth 🙂
    The photography got very personal, became a visual diary. Consciously and subconsciously. Now I learned that curiosity isn’t endless and that the quest for answers can be relentless. I realize that sometimes the treasures are covered by the signs of times. The glory, tears, laughter, and pain are still ready to be revealed. Digging it up just doesn’t feel easy though, it never was.
    I love this so much, well done for saying it so eloquently

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