Carollers are carolling, partiers are partying, and capitalists are capitalizing on the wallet-wresting effects of garish ornamentation mixed with insipid music. Yes, it’s the Holiday season.
We photographers are no less immune to these mawkish manipulations than those who partake in most any other hobby. And it’s quite likely that many of us have already populated our Holiday wish lists with all manner of desirable goods — each of which, we hope, will hasten our ascent to photographic nirvana.
A new camera is likely to top many such lists — a sleek body’s unfamiliar contours and mysterious buttons are a time-tested motivator for photographers seeking renewed inspiration.
Other lists are likely adorned with one or more new lens selections. When we view the world through the altered perspective of a different focal length, all our hackneyed old subjects suddenly appear fresh and compelling.
Clever (i.e. “older”) photographers — who have now shot their usual subjects with 37 different cameras and a lens assortment numbering in the hundreds — will usually add “travel” to their Holiday wish lists. Nothing inspires one to reach for photographic nirvana quite like the experience of having something genuinely new to photograph.
Introspective photographers might feel the urge to add some nice photography monographs to their list. After all, discovering creative new ways to interpret familiar subjects can be every bit as liberating as actually finding new subjects.
So what’s on my photographic Holiday wish list? What’s going to drag my butt up Mount Nirvana?
Yes. That’s right. Clothes. And I’m not talking about such absurd accoutrements as photo vests or those silly harnesses you strap to your body to help secure your camera. I’m talking about your basic, run of the mill, everyday clothing.
Now I must admit that new clothing doesn’t work in quite the same way as a new camera, lens, travel destination or photo book. Those purchases are all designed to cause an effect — better photographs. New clothing, on the other hand, is the result of an effect. Specifically, new clothes are the result of better photography.
Perhaps I should backtrack…
About three months ago, I altered my diet and exercise routine. I stopped eating glutens and significantly reduced my carbohydrate intake. I also added 30 minutes of aerobic and anaerobic exercises to my daily workout routine, thus increasing it to… well… 30 minutes.
Curiously, I didn’t do this because I considered myself to be either unfit or overweight. Over the last two decades, I gained about a pound a year — a nearly imperceptible rate of change, and one which I readily dismissed as “the inevitable result of aging.” Cloaked in such denial, it would obviously require a rather potent impetus for me to willingly forgo such indulgences as bread, beer, pasta and pastry — and that impetus was migraines.
For over 30 years, I’ve suffered through frequent, protracted and debilitating migraines. Every new pill, procedure, lifestyle change or bottle of snake oil gets my rapt attention. So when I read that a common benefit of a gluten-free diet was a reduction in the frequency and severity of migraines, I took action.
Within days of my gluten banishment, a strange thing happened: the digital readout on my bathroom scale began to display steadily declining numbers. Suspecting a faulty battery, I swapped it for a new one. The decline continued. Encouraged by this and by an increase in my energy levels, I started reading some health and nutrition books. One in particular, called Grain Brain, filled me with a terror far greater than any horror novel, and provided the necessary incentive to stick to my routine during those early days. Soon, it wasn’t fear that motivated me, but success. I grew lighter, healthier and happier. And as I did, I would go out for increasingly longer photo walks. No neighbourhood was too far; no day too rainy; no morning too foggy; no night too dark and cold. I realized how lazy I had recently become, and how this laziness translated into a lessened and compromised photographic output.
It took two decades of denial and ignorance for my weight to peak at a full 9 pounds above a healthy, normal BMI range — a statistic I spent the last year leniently assuming meant I was “just barely overweight.” In contrast, it’s taken a mere three months for me to lose 15 pounds, which puts me back comfortably within the “acceptable” BMI range for my age and height. But as with most things I undertake, “acceptable” isn’t good enough when “superlative” is within reach. And “superlative,” according to an amalgamation of various ideal-weight formulas, means I still need to lose another 10 pounds — which, when achieved, will put me at the same weight I was at in my early-20’s.
I felt pretty darn good in my early-20’s. Looked good too… had endurance in spades…
Making these lifestyle changes has been ridiculously easy. And the benefits — not just to my photography, but to my overall well-being — are demonstrable. Going gluten-free has eradicated my excess weight, eliminated my frequent and varied collection of digestive “issues,” and infused me with enough energy to grab a camera, head out the door and take the time to explore and experiment. The only real problem is my clothing. Nothing fits me anymore. At least not the way I intended. My tailored shirts billow and flap about like a tarp in a hurricane. My tight rock ’n roll jeans have gone hip hop — slipping south of my waist, where they’re now held aloft only by the remnants of my butt and a belt cinched to its minimum circumference. Its excess length wags before me, to-and-fro, like some sort of leather dowsing rod. In another few weeks, I won’t even be able to pull off the “hip hop” look. Instead, I’ll be sporting the “senile old man with his pants around his ankles” look…
In fact, the only thing that my new gluten-free lifestyle hasn’t improved upon is the very thing that inspired it — the migraines. They seem, thus far, to be relatively unaffected. But in spite of this, I still feel as if I’ve stumbled upon the fountain of youth. Which is good because, if I live forever, the odds I might one day take a decent photograph increase substantially… and all it would have required is some new clothes.
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: “Affirmation” was shot with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 with a Lumix/Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 lens. “Undulate,” another example of my continuing diptych compulsion, was shot with an Olympus Pen FT and an Olympus 25mm f/4 lens on Kentmere 100, exposed at ISO 50 and developed 1:50 in Rodinal. “Flashers” was taken on one of those foggy mornings mentioned in the article. It was shot using a Hasselblad XPan with a Hasselblad 90mm f/4 lens on FP4+, exposed at ISO 250 and developed in Diafine. “Fountains” — another diptych, this time chosen for its sheer blatancy — was shot using an Olympus Pen FT with an Olympus 38mm f/1.8 lens on Tri-X, exposed at ISO 1000 and developed in Diafine.
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