Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Dark Path, A Broken Flashlight

Once upon a time I posted to this little corner of the Great Big WWW with great frequency at a time when I felt mentally disorganized and woefully incapable of straightening out my core motivators, the direction of my muse. It was a good practice, and right now, time permitting, a practice whose reinstatement would behoove me.

Let's start with what stands out to me as the event of greatest impact on my process of photography and a very likely culprit in my dilemmas of late. My copy of Photoshop "expired" and, due to monetary concerns left me tied to acquiring and learning Lightroom in its stead. Doesn't necessarily sound like an enormous switch, both programs are stellar pieces of Adobe imaging software, but let me tell you... from a guy who has spent over a decade comfortable with and familiar with layers and the nuances of digital art, not just photographic development... MOVING TO LIGHTROOM EXCLUSIVELY AFTER YEARS OF A PHOTOSHOP PROCESS HAS BEEN IMPOSSIBLY DIFFICULT. Developing RAW files as one does in Lightroom has always been simply the first step of my Photoshop process, thus leaving every image I process feeling incomplete. I am so familiar with an array of layer-based adjustments after the initial development of a RAW file that I'm not sure my images will ever again manage to bear the same tonal qualities and infallable crispness. Having a perfected decade-long process interrupted and ultimately abandoned due to software constraints is akin to a chef losing his hand. Sure, he'll be able to prepare delicious courses much as he did before, but even the subtle differences from his forceably altered process will stand out at least to him. It comes down to a time concern, time and a willingness to learn. I certainly bear both, however it has been something of a struggle much as all learning inevitably is in the beginning.

Okay, that's the biggest issue out of the way. And honestly, my First World Whining may as well stop there as I didn't zero in on any of my other "problems" until the Photoshop Fiasco, but like all changes or life events that get us even the slightest bit down, the mind tends to autopilot itself into other subtle woes just to indulge itself in some artificial misery.

I've (temporarily) lost focus on what exactly it is that motivates me to photograph. Personally, I find this quandary absolutely dumbfounding because not 2 months ago I felt I had finally narrowed in on what it was that made be genuinely thrilled to participate in the practice of photography to begin with. It's as if the personal revelation of that core muse's discovery forced it to crawl away in clandestine fashion to some new, unexplored corner of my mental triggers. Or, perhaps (and even worse), the unveiling of the muse's most basic operating structure has left me without anything left to learn, and the slow, inebriated trudging pace of my photography today is the result of the thrill, the adventure of self-discovery being no more. Or, if I were to actually stop reading so heavily into the abstract and just pay attention to the supremely logical hemisphere of the brain, maybe I've just slowed down because of weeks spent ill, recovery from surgery and family-centric holiday events bunching together and attacking my time and stress centers all at once. See, I can state that and totally believe it, that my stark decline in creative, artistic photographic efforts has simply been a result of life-outside-of-photography weighing in, but it is also a function of the brain to look at other people, their exploits and efforts, and thus when my brain sees so many good friends enjoying the season in photographic fashion it immediately assumes some greater, deeper issue is at fault and denying me the satisfaction of creative expression.

I'm not sure if I've ever said this before, but our brains really do rather suck at permitting us complacent satisfaction. That or I'm simply crazy... suppose both statements aren't exactly mutually exclusive either... hmm.

I have hit a woefully jaded peak of disinterest in urban exploration. At least UE insomuch as the infiltration of active, semi-active and guarded locations is concerned. In 2008, when a brand new and exciting genre to photograph, my enthusiasm in urbex outings couldn't have been higher. In 2010, having spent 2 years honing the craft, I felt myself moving at a brisk pace through location after location and pulling winners from the asbestos every time. In 2012 I found a troupe of like-minded photographers and dove into the practice of UE on a nigh weekly basis, culminating beautifully into such memorable nights as a derelict wine & cheese party, amazing road trip through the Borscht Belt, kayaking to abandonment, train hopping and a million witty quips and inside jokes that will honestly make this year one for the memory books. An amazing year with amazing people... and now suddenly it's back to (at least feeling like) to just me. The last location I explored with my fellow UE partners-in-crime, a location that had been off-limits for some time but once again opened up, was so brutally disappointing to see nearly a year after my last expedition to the locale I've been left with a general disdain for abandonment in general. That location had been the defining moment in my early exploring pursuits, the kind of place that propelled my motivation and served as the best subject by which to perfect artistic technique. Whatever took place in its year spent out-of-bounds left the place a hollow shell of its former self, grandeur gone runny and now a muddy stain on the carpet. It was a story many abandoned locations in the home State had undergone, and that not even my original muse could escape the doom of rampant vandalism and "urban renewal" broke the spirit of exploration down for me.

Urban exploration has effectively ceased to be exlusively defined by places alone and now depends overwhelmingly on the company kept during an explore and the ridiculous fun had on location. Much of this overbearing mental trend stems from my great appreciation of the work of Eric Tankel, a Philly explorer who, as he expressed to me, "...suck[s] at taking pictures of abandoned places so [he] just photographs people in them". His work unloads mountainous memories to me and I have no idea who the people in his photographs are. They put me in an experience, in an attitude that elicits maximum appreciation of life, and I want to brandish such a talent myself, I want to be able to share the experiences I have with dear friends on explores in such a subdued yet amazingly impactful way. It's a kind of Holy Grail... and unfortunately for me one that requires a less reclusive, people-evasive nature (something else I'd be doing myself a favor to work on).

In the near term, since the "personal life" of photography is such a mess for me at the moment, I've been steadfast and focused on more formal business elements of photography, which is a good way to at least keep my mentally centered on the skill and keep my warmed up at all times. You can't make art all the time, I suppose, but at least with the business end of things running my mind and hands through the technical motions I'll be practiced and prepared when the muse-bug bites hard. After so much time spent out of the game I'm eager to get back into the enjoyment of photography. It's all a matter of needing mental clarity to know the what, how and why. With the holiday season coming to a close, I suspect that clarity is fast approaching. It better be...

... I think booking a vacation in Philly might do the trick.