The days seem to get longer, the weekends rush by and my temper sours, it is time for a vacation. A time to get some distance from my problems and focus on something completely new. For me this usually means travel, as I have been fortunate enough to have ample opportunity to do so.
Everyone plans their vacation differently, some go for the spontaneous trip, I have always envied those people, and some go for the carefully planned trip. I am obviously the latter. I am happy to leave ample time for spontaneous events, so long as they are well planned in my itinerary!
So how do you plan a vacation when taking film? Twenty years ago this was not a question, you would toss your film camera in a bag with the roll that was already in it, arrive at your destination and pick up film in any of the millions of places around town. Nice, simple.
These days finding film is not easy. As you do a search on the internet you will find all kinds of conflicting information about X-ray, hand carry, insurance and so forth. I thought I would simplify it down based on traveling with film for the last five years all over the globe.
I have often raved of the YouTube channel by Ted Forbes called "The Art of Photography". If you have not seen his videos, you are missing out on some excellent content. I love his early work and received much of my initial exposure (pun intended) to photography as an art form from his videos. Recently he is going a bit more into digital gear and Lightroom but his early work is exceptional.
About a year and a half ago, Ted released a video that has caused a bit of debate. The theme of the message is that some believe the world has enough photographers and there really is no interest in seeing our work. Look at Instagram and you can see amazing content with millions of users world wide, which begs the question, why post more?
I left it alone for a long while because I needed some perspective on it. Many have replied that we shoot photography for ourselves, and while this may be true for some people (look at Vivian Maier who often didn't even develop her photographs), the fact is that photography is designed to share.
When we photograph anything, we are thinking about the viewer and what they will take from the image. We look at composition techniques to guide the viewer to the portion of our image we want them to focus on. How can we then say that we do not care what the viewer thinks of our image? We can't. Any art is designed to interact between the art and people. You cannot divorce the two.
So how do we accept both of these truths? How do we reconcile the fact that our hobby is an art form and hence needs and audience while accepting the fact that the world is so inundated with photographs that there is little room for anything else?
Simple, I never intended to be famous, recognized, or even to earn a living through photography. I shoot because I enjoy it. I work to improve as a personal challenge and yes, I like to see what others think of my photographs but in the end, I will continue to shoot and work at improving. It is easy to take a picture that gets 100 likes on facebook or Instagram. The goal is shooting a photograph that I can be proud of.
I love traveling but every time that I plan a trip I fret over the choice of camera gear I want to take. Interestingly I am not worried about not having the right gear and missing some critical shot, but I really struggle to pick a camera or two that I want to use. I have too many wonderful options and this makes my selection difficult.
For this trip, I have decided to travel light so that I can travel deep...let me explain. Carrying heavy gear, something I have done for years, is photographically rewarding but limits the enjoyment of the travel itself. You end up walking a bit less, taking short cuts and reducing the depth of your travel.
So I will pack to travel light, travel deep and travel often! So I went through my gear and opted for the following setup.
I have been to Rome several times, and I have been to Athens once. Hence I will not be trying to capture all the architectural images and will focus on people. The family I will travel with, the people seeing the amazing sights and people we encounter along the way.
For a photography buff, the discovery of a talented photographer is as if a hungry man walked into a feast laden table. You begin by gently tasting the appetizers, looking at individual pieces to see if the artist has their own style. Once you see that they have an independent message, different to what you are used to seeing you begin to try to understand the style and genre of the photographer just as a hungry man would attack the large chunks of meat. This means going through as much of the artists material as you can get your hands on.
You then start to look at the side dishes, seeing what sort of experimentation the artist went through, did they try a different style, a different medium perhaps a new perspective. You go through their body of work noting the different themes and how they all interconnect.
Then you move into dessert, as you look to see what may have influenced the photographer. What other art were they exposed to, did they interact with other artists, can you gain access to their notes. You want to understand where the photographer was coming from when their inspiration hit.
Unlike a feast however, with photography you can return to that same table and enjoy your favorite dishes all over again. The first trip is one of discovery and introduction, the second trip has given you time to absorb their work and put it into better perspective, so you pick over the pieces enjoying the details never noticed on the first trip.
Then there is the third trip, here you know the dishes well, you know what you like and what missed the mark, you are still awed by your favorites but are bored with the misses. On this third trip you understand the artist and what they are trying to do, where they came from and how they created their art.
The fourth trip is the same as all the subsequent trips, the discovery is gone and it is replaced with a soothing familiarity. All the marrow has been sucked out but the taste lingers on. You already know what the artist was trying to teach, but you still enjoy reminding yourself of its lessons.
So the discovery of a talented photographer fills me with a great deal of excitement because I recognize the feast, and can already see my return trips and the hours of enjoyment and learning I have in front of me.
And so it was this weekend, as I discovered Francesca Woodman, an amazing photographer but one that adds a complexity I am uncomfortable with. You see, she took her own life at the tender age of 22. It is difficult to look at her art without this altering the message. The problem is that I do not see this as a central message she wanted to transmit but it is tainted. It is as if a horrible smell wafted into the room where the wonderful feast was laid.
The food continues to taste the same but the smell is so different, so off of what the food tastes like that it masks it. The taste is there but you need to concentrate on it. You must focus on the smell and taste of the food and ignore the rest.
Oh, how I wish I could enjoy the meal without the smell! How I wish I could look at Francesca's work without the influence of the tragic outcome of her life! Why can't these images teach me what she wanted them to, without my reading so much more into them?
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.