A Vapor of Truth


I picked up a couple of film cameras recently.  One got picked up through Derk and one got picked up off the shelf.  I’m at a frustrating place in my photographic process.  I am not enjoying what come easily any more.  Or to put it another way, I’m not growing right now.

My original though was that the old-newness of film and mechanical cameras with fine lenses would awaken my inner Bresson/Nachtway/McCurry but, of course, it doesn’t work like that.  The problems with this idea start of with the fact that these three men represent three very different styles of documentary photography and so rolling them all into one idea is problematic from the start, but the real root problem is in the fact that I’m trying to be them.  I’m always trying to be them.  I think a lot of us are.  And If it’s not HBC for you, then it’s Tolstoy or Rory Stewart or Steve Jobs, what ever.

I look at these photographers and I can tell you why they are successful.  I can tell you why their compositions are dynamic, I can tell you what lenses, cameras, films, subjects; I can even tell you about their interactive styles with their subjects what I can’t tell you about is why they made those decisions.

I’ve met Steve McCurry, I have heard James Nactway speak–I know a woman who went to high school with the guy for crying out laud–I have studied their bios, listened to their interviews, studied their work.  And I can tell you what they have to say about those decisions, what their rational was (James likes to be close to his subjects and so employs a 16-35mm and a 50mm most of the time he uses TriX400 BW film and shoots Canon–Steve shoots Nikon and doesn’t shoot with anything wider than a 28mm and likes things closer to the 50-85 range.  He shoots 100e Ektachrome.)  I can tell you that Steve traveled to Asia with his Nikon FM after breaking up with his fiance after college and never moved home.  I can tell you that James has always been the quiet broody guy and comfortable being alone.  Ok so what ever, I can tell you all of that, but what I mean is what drew them to make those decisions, you and I can’t answer that.

What drew them to those things was Spiritual.  Something about those images and their way of working–the way the focal length created a certain type of relationship between the subject and the background, the way the film rendered the tones, the way the lens gave them an opportunity to be intimate with their subject or gave them room to be alone in the same room–resonated with in soul.

Instead of asking what resonates in my soul, I have looked at the products of their experiences and tried to replicate their products.  And so my images look–to me–about as soulless as the experience sounds.


When I look at something like Place de le Concorde by Edgar Degas I see something close.  The structure in the abstract, the emotions that are real but ethereal.  This feels right, feel true to my understanding of life.


The confidence that rests in the composition of this is astounding.

The same is true of this portrait by Munch


So this is why I have been quiet all summer.  This is why I have hardly posted to the blog, why I haven't really shot much at all.  I have been reinventing my idea of successful photography.

I can't tell you what it is yet and I'm not going to.  I can feel this vapor of truth in my soul and instead of trying define it, I'm going to trust it and see what happens.  I let someone else define if for me later.