I always found the idea of making New Year’s resolutions somewhat curious. Why must one wait until January before resolving to rectify all the mistakes of a squandered and miserable existence? If you have an epiphany on June 29th, what good does it do to wait six months to act upon it? Wouldn’t right this moment be more appropriate?
Normally, I wouldn’t be too concerned with the New Year’s resolutions of others, except they always seem to affect me in some way. Take, for example, the ever-popular diet resolution. For eleven-and-a-half months each year, I can belly right up to my grocer’s salad bar, build a big beautiful salad, and be eating it within minutes. But in January, the crowd around the salad bar makes Christmas shopping at the mall look like a hike in the wilderness. If people would simply begin to eat properly the moment they acknowledge their cookie and peppermint white chocolate mocha lunch habit might be a problem, then I wouldn’t be forced to forgo salad for the first two weeks of every year.
Although the collateral damage from other people’s resolutions is mostly disadvantageous, there is actually one New Year’s resolution that always delighted and amused me. I dubbed it, “The January Effect.”
Each January (usually around the 3rd or 4th of the month, after the population had sobered up), I would begin to garner quite a bit of attention from the fairer sex. Nothing extreme — just the little smiles, looks, touches, hair flips and mild flirtations women use to signal interest. Mind you, I’m not (nor was I) what the average female would consider to be a platinum catch. In my heyday, I would have generously applied a grade of “B-” to my physical desirability. I was not so desirable that I could attract a woman’s attention from across a crowded room, but was desirable enough to hold the attention of the women I met. For 11 months each year, these were the rules of attraction with which I complied — but each January, my mojo would seemingly and suddenly shift into overdrive.
It actually took me a couple of years to realize I hadn’t suddenly and miraculously become handsome over the holidays. In fact, my new found desirability had nothing whatsoever to do with me. Instead, it had everything to do with the women themselves. I came to realize that I was their New Year’s resolution. I had become the personification of the salad bar. Each January, weary from the previous eleven months spent pursuing the unattainably handsome, dangerously seductive or tantalizingly rich, women would resolve to lower their standards. This, they decided, would be the year they would “smarten up,” drop into a lower league, and thus land a more respectable guy. Apparently, I fit that mold.
I won’t lie. I loved the January Effect and began to anxiously await its arrival each and every year. Even though I eventually married a woman so far out of my league that I needed a telescope just to see her, I (and my ego) still enjoyed my annual illusion of desirability. It felt good to be the desire-ee rather than the desire-er.
Sadly, about a half dozen years ago, the January Effect began to diminish precipitously. My daily reception of carnivorous glances became weekly glances. The next year, I received a grand total of one. The year after that, none. Thanks to a combination of age and gravity, I had dropped below the female threshold of “good enough,” and entered the realm of “not if you were the last man on earth.” I am now enveloped in my fifth January without personally experiencing the January Effect.
With the demise of the January Effect came the end of “good things” happening as a result of others’ resolutions. So, in that vein, I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest a few resolutions that others might make that would benefit me.
For example, I would like The Vancouver Canucks hockey team to resolve to win this years’ Stanley Cup. I really don’t want to see the opposing team hoist the cup and flaunt it on Vancouver ice again. However, should the Canucks fail to win the cup this year, I would alternately like to request that inebriated, under-aged men from the suburbs resolve not to try and burn down my city.
But I realize I can’t control other people’s resolutions. So to counter any potentially negative effects resulting from the resolutions of others, I should probably just consider making my own. But what to resolve? I searched high and low for the answer, and gave it some serious thought.
Eventually I decided to seek a resolution from within my own photography. Are there things I’m doing wrong? Buds to nip? Bad habits to break? I dug into last year’s Lightroom library to see what I could learn. One of my first discoveries was the sheer preponderance of pigeon photos I had taken. What was that all about? What was the point? Maybe I should resolve to stop, but why? If I happen to see a particularly photogenic pigeon, what good would come from a resolution to not take its photo?
I mean, if I really feel the urge to stop photographing some segment of our flighted friends, maybe I should resolve to cut down on photos of crows feeding on the carcasses of drowned rats.
Digging deeper, I noticed that I took precious few photos of people who stared directly into the camera. I don’t know whether the dearth of direct portraits was a stylistic choice, or simply one born of fear. But it did start me flirting with the idea of going all Diane Arbus. The idea of actually getting to know people before I take their photo has a certain appeal, but I think such a drastic change in both my personality and style is a bit too much heavy lifting for a little ‘throw away’ New Year’s resolution.
On the opposite end of the quantity scale, I noticed that I photograph a lot of kids. Yet, even though they’re great subjects, I frequently choose not to publish them. Maybe it’s because I fear the wrath of angry parents? If so, then perhaps I should resolve to stop. But frankly, every kid I photograph is ridiculously cute. So maybe I’m actually doing something good — providing ample evidence that not every person who photographs a child is a pedophile. So, no — I’m not going to stop photographing kids just yet.
Then there’s my never-ending obsession with taking softly focused photographs of people whose body language intrigues me. Because I’m more interested in the shapes of the bodies than the details upon them, I will often shoot these out-of-focus. These are some of the most divisive photos in my portfolio — some folks love them, some hate them. Some might view this schism as a negative thing, and resolve to reduce (or even eliminate) these photos from their repertoire. But I’m thinking the opposite: In any art form, controversy is good. So I’m standing behind the “focus, schmocus” quote I first published in my Bartlett’s Rejects article.
Other observations flitted by. I saw my Lightroom library contained a lot of shots from a lot of odd and old cameras. I certainly see no reason to give that up for a New Year’s resolution. If anything, I’d like to do more of it, but cost factors prevent this from becoming a bona fide resolution.
Further perusal of my photo library reveals a rather unnatural attraction to signage — whether for reasons of whimsy or incongruity. Sure these signage shots are cheap and easy, but my pavlovian instinct to keep shooting them is not a monkey I’m ready to exorcise. Besides, I’m hoping they’ll have some kind of historical significance long after I’m gone. I’d like to think they’ll make my offspring rich, but I don’t have kids. So maybe they’ll help British Columbia pay its bills in the late 21st century.
Darkness continues to fascinate me. As I discussed in The Geometry of Night, I really consider the night to be one of the few untapped, unappreciated avenues open to photographers. Unfortunately, that article had the fewest readers of any article I ever wrote for Leica. My own warped logic tells me this implies that I’m actually on to something good! So I’m sticking with it. But I don’t think it really counts as a New Year’s resolution when you say, “I resolve to keep doing exactly what I have been doing.”
As a self-proclaimed documentary photographer, I suppose I should resolve to make more of an effort to figure out what the heck it is I’m actually documenting. But really, scenes like the following are just so much more interesting when one hasn’t a clue.
I finally concluded that any resolution I make must be simple in concept and focused in intent. For example, I enjoy dabbling now and then with lens flare, so maybe I should resolve to do it more? But the problem with this approach is that lens flare either works for a subject or it doesn’t — to overindulge thoughtlessly would be a reckless resolution.
Eventually, on about my fourth pass through last year’s Lightroom library, I found my New Year’s resolution: take more photos with a 50mm lens! To my surprise, I shot less with a 50mm than with any other focal length. For something that’s supposedly a “standard” lens, I was surprised to learn that I used it so little. I was even more surprised to find that, in spite of its limited use, so many 50mm images managed to find their way into my narrowed collection of “good” shots. So why didn’t I use it more? I don’t rightly know. But I resolve to find out. So this year, I’m declaring in full view of the world that I resolve to take more photos with a 50mm lens. It’s a pure, simple and doable resolution. And, best of all, it’ll distract me from the emptiness of another year passed without benefit of the January Effect.
©2012 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: Astute readers will recognize the deft and surreptitious way in which this article satisfies one of my ongoing resolutions — to occasionally purge my library of unpublished photos through an otherwise pointless article. Here, then, are the gory technical details surrounding these photos: “Another Guy Gets the Look” was shot with a Leica M6 TTL and a Voigltander 50mm f/1.1 Nokton lens using Delta 3200 exposed at ISO 1600 and developed in Ilfotec DD-X. “Blowing the Final Frame” and “Problem Solved” were shot with a Rollei 35T using Tri-X at ISO 400 and developed in Ilfotec DD-X. “Thomas Hoists the Cup” and “Riot, Dusk” were both shot with a Leica M9 and a Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Color-Heliar lens. “Looker,” “Thinkers,” “Bent Pigeon” and “Granville Room” were all shot with a Leica M9 and a 35mm f/2 (v4) Summilux lens. “Dining on Drowned Rat” was shot with a Pentax K-5 and a Pentax-M 120mm f2.8 SMC lens. “Pillars,” “Donair” and “Regal” were shot with a Leica M9 and a 28mm f/2 Summicron lens. “Cooler Now Than I Will Ever Be” and “Flare Flair” were shot with a Ricoh GXR using a Ricoh 28mm f/2.5 A12 lens/sensor module. “Cellular” was shot with a Leica M9 and a Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 Nokton lens. “Marine Building Lobby, Vancouver” was shot with a Widelux F7 using Delta 400 film exposed at ISO 400 and developed in Ilfotec DD-X. “Duck!” was shot with a Leica M2 and a Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 Nokton lens using Tri-X exposed at ISO 400 and developed in Ilfotec DD-X.
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