trusting my instinct

by julie posted April 15, 2008

The first weekend in April I headed up to the Botanic Gardens, 100mm macro in hand, ready to go for my ‘cycle of life’ type project for SoFoBoMo. I’ve been up there a million times, in all seasons, and never fail to come home satisfied. I like to think of it as my ‘spiritual home’. It’s the place I go when I need to get in the zone, to rejuvenate my photographic eye.

I couldn’t get in the zone. I couldn’t even find the zone. I had this pressure of shooting with a purpose, for a preconceived end result in the back of my mind and it nagged away at me and wouldn’t let me relax enough to get on with it. I had to concede defeat.

So, I decided that I may have to take advantage of the fuzzy month and start a week or so later, with less pressure. Next weekend came along, and I headed out to a forest, taking a slight change of tack towards more of a nature – wood/water/stone type project. I shot more than I usually would in one day, and came home to find that I had only a couple of keepers at a push. Uh oh. I may have to abandon this book project entirely.

Then, my new lens arrived.

I had been playing with a friend’s lensbaby, which was great fun and took away all the seriousness and most of the awkwardness in pointing my camera at people. Their reaction to this thing (that looks like it could land on mars) is pretty good for a casual portrait atmosphere, and you can’t be too serious when you’re using it, describing to people how it smooshes their head about! I also loved using it in the city, on architectural details and bending tall buildings with the mad perspective shifting. But the results looked too lensbaby. A little contrived, and overdone. My new lens takes a second glance to realise something is amiss – it’s slightly less conspicuous. The novelty of having to tape it on to the camera body adds a definite element of quirkiness, but once you get used to the focusing (go into macro mode by simply unscrewing the front part and holding it in front of the body!) it’s surprisingly tactile and intuitive. I always forget which direction to twist my 100mm macro to focus closer – but with this, I know I just have to unscrew it!

Even more surprising were the resulting images. A couple of test shots out the office window had me cautiously anticipating the results, and a wander around the buildings out back (I work in an ex-army barracks museum) elevated my mood to distinctly excited. I expected the novelty to wear off quicker but honestly, everything I shoot with this thing surprises and delights me. It’s surprisingly sharp in the centre (considering it’s made of plastic of course) and what it does to the light in the soft areas around the edge of the frame, I find incredibly pleasing. It’s given me a certain amount of motivation in purely shooting things to see how they come out, but it’s somehow turned my attention from the usual nature macros to streets and buildings, walls and doors. I get the inclination to shoot those often, but the results had always disappointed. Now, I tentatively think I may have found a match between subject and treatment which works well – well enough, at least, to allow me to explore the subject much further.

The other thing that I wondered about was just what I’m trying to do with these city images. I can’t deny the instinct to shoot those run down corners of the streets and buildings, but it bothered me that I’ve never known why, and my disappointing previous attempts stopped me from pursuing it any further. Something clicked when I read Doug’s blog this morning saying that sometimes you can work on a project and be halfway through before you even know what you’re actually doing, and it seemed to fit with a thought I had last week about how maybe we have a sort of channel than opens between our source of creativity and our tools, which allows us to make work we don’t necessarily consciously intend, or even understand at first – but makes more sense after we get into it, and live with it for a while. I think of it almost like a path that I can’t see when I try to look where it goes, but if I don’t look, I can stay on it and see where it takes me. It’s all very ‘Through the Looking Glass’ :)

Maybe my SoFoBoMo book should be called ‘Through the Looking Plastic’, hehe…

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