Thursday, October 20, 2011

Missing the Old Timey Tech

Last night was a weird night, marked by multifaceted dreams that explored some oft neglected elements of my psyche. My subconscious saw fit to have me lewdly behaving in a department store, exhaust myself in a full sprint for 20 minutes running from police, and out of the blue, purchasing a traditional DSLR and indulging in the simple joy that I do find myself missing at times - composing through an optical viewfinder.

It's been just over a year since my diving board leap into the mirror-less pond. Not that I regret the switch at all, the advantages of size and weight with a mirror-less system are enormously beneficial to a person taken to photographing the things I'm most apt to photograph. The cameras are small and easy to finagle into tight spaces, the lenses are tiny and only require a pocket instead of a bag. Perfect matches to the urbex aficionado. But I'm not exclusive to shooting scenes of abandonment. And although these tiny mirror-less wonders are just as capable of capturing a strong image as any bulky penta-prism equipped behemoth, there's a very abstract, unquantifiable level of connection to the subject that can be experienced when photographing through an optical viewfinder that no EVF can match.

Shooting through an LCD screen introduces a degree of detachment that can make candid photography difficult. The screen may have some ungodly refresh rate, the signal boost that makes low-light imaging on the screen possible may be clean and superb, but my mind recognizes the experience like viewing a television screen. I am not there, what I am viewing on the LCD is not actually happening and I am just taking a snapshot of the program that's on. It's a weird feeling, honestly. With laborious and slow landscape shooting it doesn't tend to be so bad because my attention is directly on the subject and my mind is calculating how to capture much the way the mind process shooting a classic large format camera. There is time to consider the shot. But with candid snap shooting, sitting at a coffee shop with friends and taking photos or sitting around a dance circle as other artists engage in their own art form, the screen is an interruption. Through an optical viewfinder, I am still there, I am still engaged with the scene and acting as a participant. Through an EVF, I am an observer, disconnected and watching the show on TV. It's a very strange feeling.

In this past year, shooting with EVIL cameras has taught me many critical lessons about imaging. I am now much more mindful of aspect ratios and how aspect cropping can lend strength to an image (before I was typically locked into the 3:2 native aspect forced by Nikon's optical viewfinders). With the electronic level built into the E-P3, I've learned a great deal about balancing parallels in an image and correcting for inherent distortion in whatever optic I happen to be using. But there are many times when I wish I could simply forget those now deep rooted considerations and relearn how to shoot the subject for sake of shooting the subject. I take to photographing candid images frequently but find my ability to do so comfortably is spoiled by distractions such as "these lines aren't parallel" or "the verticals aren't straight" and actually devalue an image based on those very fickle pretenses.

This stage in my artistic process seems very convoluted. Recently I became aware of the relative unknown site that is Beauty of Decay, an international collective of urbex photography that pushes the envelope of art in much the fashion of 1x. The images hosted by the gallery are absolutely gorgeous, painterly as opposed to documentarian (which is where I feel my images now stand). My appreciation for the high art of photography is very much at odds with my appreciation of the experience of photography that I enjoy, and so I am at a crossroads. I can either pursue the high art, photograph much the way I have been in the past year and hone the skill to produce emotive, quality images, or I can stagnate to the point of artistic degradation, act in true Zen fashion and forget the process and knowledge I have attained so that I can enjoy the act of photographing all over again without the muddied considerations I've adopted. Much as I dwell on these choices, they do not seem to blend at all. They are mutually exclusive paths. The pursuit of one can only come at the sacrifice of the other. I will either be the revered artist or I will enjoy taking pictures.

It's a headache inducing train of thought, really. I miss when photography was simpler. Alas, now I am burdened by knowledge.