Just recently, a friend made a throwaway comment to me about “every moment of [my] life being documented with photos.”
“Yes…” I said, wondering whether this was meant as a criticism or just a comment. And then: “Well, no, actually: only the pretty ones.”
Increasingly, I’m finding this to be true. I’m taking ever greater amounts of pictures, but more and more often parties are hosted and events are attended and old friends are met for dinner without my camera leaving my bag. I post about “The Week I’ve Had…” every Sunday but many of the most important moments of my life are missing from it, not because I don’t think they’re worthy of a mention – if this was a straightforward diary, they absolutely would be – but because I wasn’t in the mood to take another photo of hot chocolate that day or catching up with a loved one held my full attention.
I’ve always loved photography – it fascinates me how a click of a button can capture a fleeting instant, show how somebody views the world, share a secret or a joke or an emotion – but it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve developed much confidence in my skills. After all, anybody can pick up the same camera as me (a lot of my friends have done; it’s decent without being intimidating and I often recommend it); anybody could snap the same photo if they happened to have the same items in front of them or be in the same place at the same time I am; anybody can fiddle around in Photoshop until they stumble across a filter they like.
It took me a long time to realise that, yes, they could, but very few of them do. A lot of people don’t see the world chopped up into rectangles of greater or lesser beauty. A lot of people aren’t interested in learning what their camera can do or how images can later be manipulated. A lot of them just don’t see images in the same way that I do. Taking pictures I’m proud of really is something special.
I remember being so thrilled by the first photo I ever took… and so disappointed when all anybody else ever said was, “What a shame you’ve chopped your mum’s toes off.”
I remember my Grampa giving me a camera all of my very own and how excited I was… but I didn’t know anything about focal lengths and was often disappointed when close ups of pretty flowers came back as brightly coloured fuzz.
Back when I was using film – and even after I learnt about things like f stops and apertures – I would see great shots but let them pass me by because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with them. They would just be more bits of glossy paper, tucked in folders under my desk. Expensive bits of glossy paper, at a time when I was struggling for money.
Digital photography and the internet made such a difference.
Finally, I could afford to take risks, to try something new, to explore what my camera could do, because if a photo was rubbish I didn’t need to pay for printing. I could store images neatly on my hard drive. I could share them with people other than my often disinterested friends by uploading them to the internet.
I could – and did and sometimes still do – post photos to Flickr with minimal effort. I could – and did – take part in photo a day projects like Shuttercal. Either way, I could get feedback from people I had never met, people who may never have been to Scotland, who may be living completely different lives from me, and yet saw something in one of my pictures which prompted them to comment.
As I stopped having to focus on what my friends would be prepared to look at, my attention turned more and more to the quirky details around me and less and less to smiley faces at social events.
Oh, sure, it’s nice to have pictures of drunken shenanigans and food-splattered babies to look back on, but the pleasure I get from photography isn’t about having visual proof of my popularity (such as it is); it’s about creating an engaging or a beautiful or an entertaining image.
So why blog the images?
Because Flickr made no demands of me other than breaching no copyright – there was nothing to push me onwards, to keep me carting my camera around.
Because photo a day projects narrowed my focus to finding just that: one photo a day. Sometimes it became a chore; other times, I would leave shots unsnapped because I already had a picture for that day and didn’t want to waste a good idea.
So my blog is a nice compromise between the two. There’s a self-imposed weekly requirement, a reason to keep taking photos, but not such an overwhelming one that it ever feels like a burden. I love getting comments on my posts, but my priority is not attention; it’s having a creative outlet and building some momentum. It’s not about documenting every bit of my life with a picture, it’s about capturing those fleeting moments when something beautiful or funny or moving comes my way.