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.

Update
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

photography, photograph, Rijksmuseum, art, paintings, Nachtwacht, people, light, shadow, light and shadows, wouter brandsma

Forward

2014, Photography

photography, photograph, Rijksmuseum, art, paintings, Nachtwacht, people, light, shadow, light and shadows, wouter brandsma

I haven’t vanished. I haven’t stop blogging. And I haven’t stop photographing. When I started this year I was certain that I wasn’t going to work with a new years resolution. My photography and expectations might have changed, and for some it really did. For the better or worse. It all leaves me with doubts. I need to remind myself that I do this all for me and for a dear friend who supports me with my photography since 2007.

But truth be told that I never was so close to pulling the plug then last holidays season. The extreme doubts took their place and almost did their harm, but I couldn’t just make that happen. Talking with my friends helped me to realize that it wasn’t all for nothing. Maybe I’m too concerned about my legacy, too concerned about my intentions, my directions.. Some say you do it all for yourself, but I think that is not really fair anymore. I mean, I realize that others appreciate my photography and writing. But I like to able to change and develop without constrains. And sometimes I led the pressure add unwanted constrains.

I notice that some years the photography goes up and that other years you really struggle. It was intense in our family in the past, but we’ve made such an incredible progress. Photographically speaking 2012 was a turmoil. I stopped my photo a day project in the spring when it really felt like a mirror to me. I did the photography series for Pentax Ricoh in preparation for Photokina and I finished of with my own photo book Saudade. It felt like a closing chapter. It all likely affected my photography. And who says photography can’t be self-reflective?

Last year felt like a year of starting all over again. And start-ups go with ups and downs I guess. And when I did the interview with Don Springer for the photography online magazine Inspired Eye I questioned whether I was a photographer. In David Hurn and Bill Jays book I read the quote: “You are not a photographer, because you are interested in photography.” And that summed it up how I really felt.

Despite not having any resolutions I am trying to figure out how to continue with my photography. The photographs you normally see posted on my blog are not necessarily part of a project. They meander for me like a stream of consciousness. When working on my book I learned that it felt truly liberating to go through my work. And for this year I like to keep more time free between photographing now and the editing. I want to sift through my previous work now and maybe present them in a more unified matter on my blog. I know the project mind helps many, but works counterproductive for me. Sure a lot of projects can be meaningful and important to some, but I tend to filter these like the continuous feeds of information on TV or the internet. Unless the photographs really captures me. I just get out and see what comes up. Remember that what draws your attention is very much related to how you feel at that moment.

photography, photograph, Rijksmuseum, art, paintings, people, light, shadow, light and shadows, wouter brandsma

The same could be applied on story telling too. Should all serious photography be story stelling? Should a photograph tell a story? Photographs can be interesting too in my opinion when a series of photographs are well thought sequenced without telling a story. And maybe these photographs might still be perceived as a fictional story by the viewer and that is also the strength of images. The truth is in the eye of the beholder.

So you see, why bother about how others should photograph? Instead remain curious and keep asking questions instead of defining the rules and requirements. Changes will still happen anyway, no matter how hard you try to defend your current understanding of the medium. Ansel Adams once said: “No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” The role of art has largely changed in my opinion. Some dislike the “self-role” in art (and photography) and think it needs to be there for a greater good. And in the past this certainly used to be so. Now, “you” have become important. The stage has become smaller, while the means to share have become more universal. What you make is what you think is relevant and it may well differ from what others think.

I might photograph on a daily basis, but in the end week not have more than 35 photographs. Often less. It reminded of what Don wrote in his blog post: “Don, why do you need 70 rolls of film that you can’t afford so easily to make 3 photos? Don’t answer! Just think about a possible answer.” Read the rest here. Don’t let others fill in the answers for you, but question yourself and others to move forward.

All photographs by Wouter Brandsma