25 Feb Hunting for Something
I have been on an Instagram bender. In the last week and a half, I have posted about 300 images, and I am happy with pretty much all of them. I got a new phone in September and was introduced to Instagram a couple of days later by Ruddy, another parent at my kids’ school. He happens to be one of the best photographers I have ever met, but when he showed me Instagram, I didn’t know that he was a photographer. This was one of the first days back to school after Hurricane Sandy, and as he showed me the photos in his Instagram feed I realized I’d seen them before. He had covered Sandy for the New Yorker and the pictures had gone viral. He does a lot of direct portraiture – I like to do portraits, but I’m a street photographer at heart, and I like to stop the flow of the river with my camera, catching something by chance.
I got a very nice compliment about the framing and the use of color last night from a Facebook friend who is a cinematographer that shares my surname. I told him that for the most part, I don’t really frame with the iPhone, especially in relation to “people shots.” I’m kind of a wuss, and I don’t like confrontation. I just put the phone near my waist- and aim with eyes. I’ve been shooting from the hip long enough that about 25% of the time I get something useful. About 10% of the time I get a shot that connects for me.
About 3 years ago when I first got an iPhone, I posted some pictures to Facebook and a good friend commented, “why don’t you get a real camera?” At that point the iPhone camera was worlds better than other phone cameras, but it was a far cry from what one could do with a DSLR. He was right. I got a camera, and I am eternally grateful to him for pushing me forward. However, now that the iPhone camera is as strong a tool as it is, I have found myself somewhat obsessively shooting. A few weeks after my friend Ruddy introduced me to Instagram, he showed me snapseed, a five dollar app that gives me a lot more control over fixing my images. Now as I shoot, I think about the images I’m capturing in terms of what I can do with them. While I don’t often compose through the lens (in fact most of the time when it’s bright out I can’t even see what the phone is capturing), I am aware of the shapes that I am reaching for and what the light is doing to them.
On a bike ride this morning, I was thinking about what catches my eye and makes me stop to take a picture. I like shapes, and thinking of the frame. But I also like people. That’s when I came upon this crazy Purim scene, complete with SWAT teams and hundreds of Hascidic men. Avoiding confrontation, I moved through the crowd shooting somewhat randomly, but also trying to frame from the hip. I had a fancy DSLR in my bag, but I chose to just shoot with my phone. Afterwards I wondered why I hadn’t pulled out the camera to make “good images”. I think it has something to do with the fact that I have been going through a lot of my older images and being drawn to the fact that they aren’t “professional”. While I love how sharp the images I can make with my DSLR are, I’m more interested in the ability to shoot stealthily, quickly, and easily. The ability to control the process gets in the way. I do believe that this resistance to doing things the right way has left me with images that have aged well. They don’t look like everyone else’s.
I was also thinking about photography yesterday as I stopped to take pictures of buildings, bridges, and raised highways. I love the way the patterns of a bridge or a roadway please the eye. I believe that a part of our brains craves order. At the same time, too much order becomes stifling. I like to look at ordered situations in a chaotic way, creating a new order or a new story out of the momentary disorder. I think a lot about balance and I guess that I am in some ways always seeking it, either in photos or in story.
It was cold out, but sunny, as I biked, and seemingly out of the blue I found myself thinking about the week we spent at the beach every summer as I was growing up. A large part of each day was devoted to shark-teeth-hunting. My parents craved time to just think, so as we walked the beach we were instructed to basically leave them alone and search. This forced us to both internalize our thoughts but also to focus in an abstract manner. We learned to spot the hint of black that was half buried by crushed shells and sand. Bent over and lost in fantasy, we would scan the beach for those little flashes of black that might be a “prize”. I realized that in some ways I have the same feeling when I am out with my camera. I am looking for some shape or bit of light to leap out at me and I grab at it, just as I would a shark tooth, before the wave washes it out my grasp.