I have written before about my previous love of cameras and photography. I have also told how I rarely take photos now, and despite keeping up an interest in new equipment, I am unlikely to return to my former obsession with all things photographic. With regard to blogging, I have often speculated that this blog might be more entertaining, if it was peppered with appropriate and relevant photos, everything from holiday snaps from the 1970’s, to some background pictures of Beetley Meadows, and other places I write about in Norfolk.
Those of you who read all my posts, will also be aware of why I have chosen not to do this, and how I admire those other bloggers who put so much work into their photography, and how it is presented in their blogs. This is not a blog about photography, as it is primarily about writing, nostalgia, films, and music. I cannot deny that some photos might make it more accessible, and I have no doubt that they would attract more readers, more followers, and my blog would be generally more ‘fun’ to view. I am not going down that route though, but it has occurred to me to consider why. Why my interest in photography waned so dramatically, and why I started to look at photos less as a fan, and more as a critic.
I have taken a lot of photos. Holiday shots, portraits, friend’s children, weddings, landscapes, riverscapes on the Thames, and still life set ups. I went out, on numerous occasions, just to take photos, and not just to go somewhere that might present opportunities to do so. I took close-ups of trees, driftwood, old ropes, rusty metal, deserted factories, bleak industrial landscapes, and urban decay. I sneaked candids of tramps, and old people, with interesting faces. I used long lenses, to catch subjects unaware, and climbed high buildings, to capture wide-angle vistas. I sat freezing in the dark, attempting to get definitive night shots of castles, and fishing boats in harbours. I often took two cameras, so as to duplicate shots, in colour, and black and white. I stretched out on my back, flat against the cold pavements of London, lens pointing skyward, to get unusual angles, on familiar buildings. I waited for sunsets, or rose before dawn, anything to achieve the perfect shot.
But it never happened.
There was some success, a few pleasing images. I would sit with the newly-arrived pack of 8×6 prints, a waste paper basket between my knees. Flicking through 216 exposures, six rolls of film, most of the prints going straight into the bin; the ‘keep’ pile getting smaller every year, the costs of the hobby spiralling. How many sunsets can I shoot? Did I want to do another wedding as ‘back up’ photographer? Where was the continued attraction in lonely night shots? I photographed my favourite places; Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, London Docklands, so many times, I grew tired of anticipating the same results. People were complimentary, but then they only had a compact camera, and appreciated the effort, and the effect of different lenses. Like many before me, I invested more money in newer, and different equipment. The intention was to motivate, and perhaps improve quality, by changing technique.
That didn’t work either.
The last time I took some photos with my SLR, actually went out, intending to take photos, checked exposure, focus, and composition, was in 2011. A trip to Prague, for Julie’s birthday. One camera, one lens, and a very photogenic city, in the cold, clear air of January. No simple holiday pictures, but looking for angles, places of interest, as well as iconic tourist spots, like the Charles Bridge. This time, the camera was digital, and I could check the results on the screen after shooting. Nothing breathtaking; nothing new, or fresh. Just holiday shots, after all that. I started to become critical, not only of my own efforts, but those of others. I abhorred digital manipulation, Photoshop, post-capture embellishment, and all the ‘benefits’ of the digital revolution. There was insufficient sharpness, I felt, and everything looked soft, and manicured. Photos could no longer be trusted to be authentic, and sunsets could be inserted into otherwise indifferent landscapes, to polish up the results. What was the point of it all, when it was just touched up on a computer? Photography had become part of the computer age, and it had evolved into something different, something I was no longer that good at, and requiring skills I had no desire to learn.
This week, I was compelled to take some photos, to show the problems with my wood burner, the configuration of the chimney, and the water leaking inside the house. The supplier wanted evidence that could be e mailed, and it had to be current. For speed and simplicity, I used my phone. A simple, five megapixel, HTC smartphone camera. No viewfinder, no choice of aperture, no exposure adjustments, or unusual lens configuration. Just look at the screen, and move the phone about, until the desired object was in the frame. The flash fired automatically, and even though I wobbled about, and my finger shook on the trackball ‘shutter’, the results were all excellent, and just what I needed. Thirty-One years of cameras, film rolls, accessories, equipment bags, and countless hours of study of lenses, exposure, and technique. Why?
I have become a reluctant photographer, and sometimes wonder if I will ever bother to take another photo.