Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Don't Know What to Blog About (But this weekend was chock full of photography)

This is a frequent problem, really. I want to write, want to bash the keyboard in true neanderthal fashion spouting fancy lyrical verse about the wonderment of events before they become stale and cumbersome installments of my fragmented memory. And naturally, that is exactly what happens every time. But damnit, it's hard to go from one intense experience to the other, from the zen of a photographic high to the frustrating grunt work of post-processing and then somehow segue into vivid recollection and retelling. By the time I can recoup, sit down with intent to post, it's already 2 days later and the weekend is a smeared finger painting. It could also be because I usually only ever take the time to sit down and write while sitting at work, which presents its own issues entirely. But hey, you're not going to tell on me, right?

Friday, Saturday and Sunday were three amazingly charged days chock full of the kind of out-in-the-sun activity I needed to recover from a week-and-a-half of getting maybe 30 total minutes of vitamin D exposure per day. Winter is a cursed season, the sun all too willing to drop under the horizon before standard business hours are even over. Should the daylight savings tradition ever be abolished, I will celebrate with brash public drunkenness and a camera in hand. In the mean time, I will simply have to take advantage of the weekends, and the aforementioned 3 day spread were very much taken advantage of.

My shift on Friday was short, as it is most Fridays. Despite a steady, week-long period of rain preceding the weekend, Friday saw the sun punching through an all but clear sky, a kind of temptation I was in absolutely no way going to pass up. The muse was rusty, though, and marked by the creative low period prior, so to ensure I exercised my eye I managed to entice a new friend (and photogenic to boot) into an afternoon romp through a low key locale followed by coffee at Starbucks (the latter sealing the deal... works every time).

Needless to say it was a good time. The feeling was akin to what athletes must feel when first returning to a punishing routine after a period out-of-commission. Inspiration was scattered, no single arrangement of lines, no poignant sources of light leaving strong impact. I resorted to snap shooting, damn near pressing the shutter button for no sake other than that of the pressing. To hear the sound, the slap of the mechanism. The images themselves meant nothing. I was building up, doing jumping jacks, stretching, exciting the heart rate in preparation for a sprint. A slumbering beast, the muse stood and shook itself of dust and grime. It's appetite awakened, its vision attaining pointed focus. It stirred, restless and hungry, and sank its venomous teeth into my lethargy. It demanded satisfaction, and the rise of creative excitement was more than willing to oblige.

After so much time spent stagnant and miserably resigned to depressive seasonal darkness, the afternoon spent shooting aimlessly was like a revival. Once our time spent exploring the well-trodden dank regions of the valley lost its luster, we spent even more time casually conversing (and yours truly snapping) at Starbucks. Simply put, it was a nice day, the kind of nice day one wishes every day would turn out to be but unfortunately so rarely ever does. It reset my disposition from disquieted and cynical to chipper and floaty. A weight dissolved in my brain and again my dreamy nature was permitted to coax my perspective into benign, curious childhood naivety. Which happened not a moment too soon, I might add, seeing as the following morning I was expected to participate with a local troupe of photographers on a photo walk through a territory of subject matter that never seems to stop calling out to me for attention.

Long had I intended on joining this particular band of fellow photographers but consistently backed down (generally due to my own damn laziness). The proposed adventure for this particular hike, however, tripped every possible pleasure center. A morning hike to an abandoned hospital with competent people. I couldn't have asked for more. And upon meeting the group members and having time prior to our trek to chat them up I grew only to like them more. We were all different people with different chosen disciplines, different motivators and different specialties. Unlike past experiences with photo groups, it didn't suffer the obnoxious aura of competitive nature (as if any art could ever possibly be competitively judged). Everyone had something unique to share, something to bring to the table, and our conversations were of mutual respective, learning and teaching one another. It was wonderful. Idyllic, even.

Since the location of the day was a spot I'd photographed many dozens of times before, I committed myself to putting a very different approach to the test. Although I had my E-P3 handy and shot a good bit of video (but have nothing to do with), my primary stills camera on this venture was the comparatively diminutive (to everything, including the E-P3) XZ-1. When I first needed a camera to replace my lost GF1 it was the logical purchase I directed myself toward. It triggered every positive logic response possible, but I never really did put it much through the paces in hard, directed creative practice. Saturday saw its status as a backup revoked, replaced instead with an earned promotion to full fledged Creative Instrument.

The entire morning we spent shooting the hospital, the XZ-1 remained mounted on my tripod without an ounce of regret. I shot wide, and even if I'd stopped it down to only f/2.8 I'm certain the depth of field would've been more than ample and the sharpness beyond anything the sensor would ever be demand in resolution, but running off of prior experience I kept it stopped at f/4 for unlimited depth of field and peak sharpness. Not that I distrusted its JPGs, but curiosity also saw me shooting RAW files, which offered an absolutely exceptional amount of breadth in dynamic range for manipulation in post. At base ISO 100 the shadows offered remarkable retention, with highlights only ever clipping where they naturally should (unless your definition of a photograph demands a -7 to +7 stop spread).

Many times in the past I've used the XZ-1 as a snaps camera, rarely if ever using it in calculated, intent driven image recording. The E-P3 has simply been too tempting, a veritable bar in the way of my realizing the capabilities of the tiny pocket rocket. Now that it has seen its test, I am far more inclined to approach a location with only Olympus' bastion compact. True, it may be in no way suited for the high demands of bokeh in subject isolation shooting, but it may very well be my new go-to tool for all things wide. Complain about the 10 megapixel resolution all you want, I've managed terrific prints with far less not so many years back.

Hours upon hours of adventure later, I bid adieu to my fellow photographers in the troupe and parted ways. The day left me exhausted, sore and desperate for sleep. Despite a solid rest the day before, my wearied body gave in to the seduction of the sandman by 8. Not necessarily a bad thing, however. My adventuring for the weekend was hardly over. I had one more date to make according to my calendar, a rendezvous with an incredibly like-minded photographer I'd shot with only a month before. Anticipation was the defining factor of my sleep because of it.

Saturday night, I dreamed of rot and decay. All things beautiful.

Sunday began much as a Sunday of last month. Awaken to the dark. A quick shower, donning attire befitting of the exploits to come. Dine and dash at the Dunkin Donuts just up the road and hop onto the West-bound highway, running from the sun as the minutes tick by to almost melancholy post-rock consuming the airwaves. Again, the destination was a new locale for me, and the excitement associated with anything new only quadrupled when paired with the clandestine nature of our art. I arrived early. I arrived eager.

Having spent the entire previous day doting on the XZ-1, I felt I needed to counteract the neglect of the E-P3 by bringing it as my only camera (odd how I assign very human emotions to simple tools). A vast majority of my shooting was handled by the 45mm f/1.8, and in an act of the most incredible laziness, I disregarded the tripod entirely while exploring this new locale. Not that it much mattered - with the 45mm my intent and my approach suffered an enormous shift. No longer was I accommodating an entire room and wide dynamic range in my images. With 90mm being my point of view, there was only one proper way to utilize the presented perspective. Subject isolation.

Not that the locale offered much interest in the way of wide angle photography anyway. Subject isolation, however, is still a new discipline to me, something which I have always intended to learn. While "normal" focal length shooting was a strong introduction to the considerations of the art, there are new challenges to face when locked into a focal length that often puts one's back to a wall. The results, however, are absolutely worth the effort required, and it is only a matter of time before it becomes a second nature skill. It is a style of photography that is almost minimalist, but whereas traditional minimalism leaves the worst of tastes in my mouth, it seems to work with a unique level of charm in the capture of my coveted "ruin porn".

Though the time spent exploring this new location was short compared to most adventures, it felt fruitful, and incredibly satisfying. Afterward, we wound down our appetite for traditionally incongruous imagery with a revisiting of the location I had just spent a majority of Saturday combing through. In celebration of our mutual artistic accomplishment, we dined Italian, sipping pinot grigio with fervor and talking the core essence of photography, the "why" that carries real meaning. Another day of driven artistic outburst, met that early evening with a very familiar weariness. A "battle worn" photographer.

I've yet to sort through most images from this weekend. For three days, I was more productive than I'd been in over a week, and the activity has built up a reserve. For at least one more week of rainy weather, I can be satisfied.

Unless the sun comes out before this weekend, anyway.