Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tackling Monsters

I've had my new E-P3 for just over a week now. It's all I'd hoped for in regards to the pleasure of photographing people. Its controls are intuitive, JPGs masterfully rendered, in-camera edits purposeful and great to use... it is, above all else, a portrait camera. A week of ownership and I already feel the thing disappear in my hands like a good camera ought to do.

There is a test I have not subjected it to, however.

Around this time last year I was with a good friend and fellow photographer, Ted, carving rubber tracks into the asphalt of Blue Ridge Parkway and the general area around Shenandoah. It would be my last month utilizing my old workhorse, the D40x. The year before yielded a plethora of amazing candid portraiture crafted from the view of a sharp, fast prime (my first, the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX). As stated before, my sense of satisfaction with the skill I'd acquired candidly snapping portrait after portrait after portrait left me hungry for a new beast to conquer. And by god I found that beast, but by no means feel it has yet been conquered.

Abandonment photography.

A bit over 3 months since the Great Accident (which wasn't nearly as "great" as the capitals might indicate but certainly a matter of "great" personal impact), I've yet to really enter the violent, flagrantly consequence-disregarding sprint at which I pursued my muse before. To this day, despite every verse building momentum to my hopeful re-entry into this fringe photographic discipline, it just hasn't happened. At this point I'm becoming concerned that I may have lost more nerve than I'm letting onto, especially to myself.

Thus far every move I've made in regards to recomposing my lost camera system has been centric around people shooting, a subject I am very comfortable with and well acclimated to. Whereas the rotting decay and abandonment of Western society requires heavy risk assessment, quick and stealthy entry, exit and all-around travel and above all else involved the acceptance and understanding of self-inflicted danger to health, snapping candids while sitting at Starbucks requires little other than $5.04 for an iced caramel macchiato. There is no inherent risk involved, but similarly there is not necessarily any personal reward.

For every locale into which I managed to infiltrate there was a glorious rush of satisfaction so strong and invasive it has lasted to this day, this very minute. As static and inanimate the subject matter, behind the images were stories, memories, novels worth of adventure and thought and emotion packed into still triggers that dared called themselves photographs. Unlike the legions of casual memories recorded by casually captured candids, these images spoke volumes, grand, masterfully woven tales of past, present and future of the locale itself, the people who once inhabited it and the photographer behind the lens. Like no other photographic focus, they spoke with meaning. This from the rough images I'd managed to spin without ever having even identified and perfected my technique. A monster still to be tackled.

Of course a recovery period is expected when climbing from an accident of the sort I was involved in, but the dramatic drop in momentum towards personal goals remains a shock. So many weekends I would readily wake up early and rush out to squeeze in some adoration toward my photographic musings, but now I feel a kind of dread, the sort of amplified caution that keeps pre-teens scared of highways while learning to drive for the first time. Not even a year ago I was done with that persistent reluctance, but it has once again crept into scope and left me feeling set back at least a year and a half from a creative-progress standpoint. Here I am, sitting at Starbucks snapping portraits of friends over coffee and trying to pass it off as high art when the opportunity is there to revisit these ever changing abandonments and perfect my technique, indulge my muse and produce genuine impact with the images it drives me to create. Clearly I am not doing what needs to be done.

Excuses have poured from my rationalization centers but any time spent intently pondering them leads to almost immediate dismissal. Blame has been applied from the weather to my camera, but none of it holds up. It is Summer, a hot and humid season for sure, but even during the bitter days of Winter I managed to pursue the images I wanted as there are always measures that can be taken to counter a spell, be it hot or cold. The right-tool-for-the-job camera argument has been slightly more anal. Somehow I've managed to talk myself out of on-location shooting under the premise that Olympus cameras are built specifically for people shooting, as if they are tools unworthy of anything but. To myself I say "What a crock of shit". It has never, NEVER been the camera that made the photographer. Hand an artist a Polaroid and damnit he will produce ART. Physical limitations once had credence but I am once again able to move about with minimal, if any, pain. Legal complications technically always have merit, but my risk has always been measured and I am once again in a position of minimal risk given the right locale. Put simply, I am being a sissy. And I have no idea why.

To some measure it's likely natural aversion to risk of physical harm given the great measure of it I came to. Compounding that risk aversion may be an underlying sense of "I can't put myself up to more risk after having just lucked out so much". My experience has had the effect of a teenager's first car accident, the teen formerly driving with wanton disregard for life and limb only to exercise much greater care after the fact knowing in great detail the potential consequences. In most circumstances this is a sensible and beneficial reaction, but in my case it is resulting in a stressful personal dilemma and negative impact upon my life goals. Perhaps my situation is less like that of the teenager learning a fear of mortality and more of a Sportsman injured so badly he dreads returning to the sport. Like a Grand Prix driver in a terrible car accident, suddenly reluctant to take the wheel in quite the same way as he did before.

I am currently taking baby steps toward my ultimate return to the practice of urban decay photography. It is too alluring to ignore and too invigorating, too life altering to forget. But no amount of tip-toeing will ever satisfy the hunger of a muse once fed to extremes. My capabilities are more than apparent to me. At the moment I am simply handicapping myself to placate a survival mechanism. When, oh when, will I reassert my authority over my own reluctance and take that plunge back into my potential. My capability. Myself, as if there was never a hiatus at all.