Quantity and immediacy diminish enjoyment

May 3, 2013
Dune - pinhole photo

Sunlit dune and East wind (paper negative)

Just like anybody else, I am always dying to see the results of an exposure particularly when I have that intuitive feeling that the recently closed shutter has sealed something good or, dare I say, potentially perfect. And just like everybody, I have had my share of disappointing results.

My recently yoyoing health has virtually prevented me from producing anything photographic, and I have had ample time to think about what motivates me to work photographically and to consider what value I feel lies in an image or passage of text once its making is complete. It has been an uncomfortable experience to discover that some of my images seem to be pure peacockery, passingly elegant, sometimes eye-catching, often curious but ultimately irritating and only fleetingly worthwhile.

I have found it fascinating to observe that, thanks to my imposed inactivity, my productive cycle (if indeed anything so close to a flat line can be called a cycle!) has seen a progressively longer gap between the making and the processing, and an even longer one between the processing and the publishing. Now this is enormously detrimental to one’s momentum but strangely it has proved to be excellent for ripening and improving my critical self-view and more importantly allowing me to savour what is good about an image before it goes on display to the rest of the world. It has provided a slowness and a breathing space which the race to publish something often squeezes out. Not that slowness benefits anybody but myself of course but these fallow interludes really do seem to improve the experience of making and understanding the results. They successfully keep at bay external pressures and allow one to savour – and sometimes discard – what has been made in a beautifully meditative way.

The photo shown here is one which, if it had taken the usual rapid route from darkroom to screen, might not have pleased me. I almost certainly would not have understood it or enjoyed its making. In fact the negative was so uninspiring that I very nearly threw it away without printing it at all. But the enforced delay, the occasional reviews of the negative, the playing with the print, the very looking at it and periodically ignoring it brought me to the point where instead of seeing triviality and pointlessness I saw dignity and worth. I think this is intensified by the low number of negatives I have had to work with recently which has allowed an intimacy with each exposure which high-volume production simply cannot create.

So it seems to me now that having lots of images to work with and finding too much ease in their production, with the resulting visual and critical indigestion that this entails can be tremendously damaging to the enjoyment of making. Part of the fun for me in using pinhole cameras is the enforced discipline of slow looking and slow action. But until now I had not realised how much benefit slowing right down might bring. In addition to this, as one’s satisfaction increases so does one’s ability to discern. As in so many other life-enhancing activities such as cooking good food or drinking pot-brewed tea from a china cup, what starts out as merely good is elevated to the heavenly by the right approach.

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