Here’s a thought: Did Leopold von Sacher-Masoch celebrate his 100th flogging? I’m guessing he did. Because if he didn’t, there exists no logical explanation for why I’m celebrating this — my 100th ULTRAsomething article. What purpose, beyond a soul that festers with venomous masochistic tendencies, could possibly explain why I’ve written 100 articles about photography and published them on the internet?
Yet every few weeks for the past four years, I’ve dressed the Macintosh in furs, chained myself to its keyboard, and whipped out an article for all the world to read. Each time I’ve submitted to this act, I’ve begun with nothing more than a mind that’s void of a single fruitful idea and a collection of photos that nobody’s mother could love. It’s as if public humiliation and degradation were my ultimate reward.
I’d much prefer to lay the blame for these 100 ULTRAsomething posts at the feet of another, less embarrassing personality trait. But what? It can’t be ego — I don’t have nearly enough fans to stroke it. It can’t be greed — the site doesn’t even garner enough donations to pay for its own existence. It can’t be guilt — I actually feel a twinge of relief, not remorse, when I’ve let too long a period lapse between articles.
Maybe I’m looking at this wrong. Maybe I didn’t achieve 100 posts through some character flaw, but through some character strength. Perhaps this site is the battlefield of a heroic and solitary man, fist thrusting skyward, who fights to right a world full of photographic wrongs. Now that’s an explanation I can embrace!
But what “wrongs” am I righting? It’s just photography — there are no wrongs. I’d like to think I’m railing against the oppressive photographic tyranny of pretty pictures, banal scenes, mindless mimicry and moronic gear lust. Except that, when ULTRAsomething first began, I was taking pretty pictures of banal scenes in a mindless mimicry of other commercial photographers, and moronically lusting for a competitive edge within the latest gear.
Truth is, the site wasn’t born as any sort of artistic manifesto, but as a humble “me too” exercise — one of a trillion photo blogs hatched when the economy tanked, the clients all waved goodbye, and the notion of “if you build it they will come” permeated those of us who blindly believed that a net presence — any net presence — meant salvation. What a load of hooey.
In the early days, ULTRAsomething accomplished only one thing: it hastened a realization that my efforts to emulate popular photographic trends were pointless, and that the world’s appetite for photos adhering to aesthetic conformity lead only to my visual stagnation. I realized that most photographers were all striving to create the exact same images, and once successful in their replication efforts, they’d invent artificial differentiators to market themselves. Wouldn’t it make more sense to actually distinguish oneself through one’s photos? Through one’s own personality?
As I grew and transformed — both as a person and as a photographer — so too did ULTRAsomething. That’s why it’s a site full of contradictions, oxymorons and conundrums. ULTRAsomething isn’t about the destination, but the journey. And wherever that journey leads me, I follow… or maybe it’s the journey that follows me? I don’t know. And the fact I don’t know is, perhaps, ULTRAsomething’s ultimate gestalt. It’s a site without solutions. It’s a site about searching — searching for improvement; searching for meaning; searching for individuality. It’s quite possibly the most existential photography blog on the internet — a distinction that virtually guarantees it’ll forever remain fodder for cultists and anathema for the masses.
Maybe 100 posts isn’t something I should be celebrating. After all, each and every day, there are thousands of bloggers who exceed the 100 post mark before they’ve even finished breakfast. Perhaps I should celebrate only after accomplishing something meaningful — like writing 100 good articles! Problem is, I won’t live that long. Besides, I’m retiring from the blogging business. Mind you, I’ve actually retired 99 times prior to this, so I wouldn’t put a whole lot of faith in this proclamation. It just keeps me from having to admit that, one day, I’ll very likely succumb to the temptation to create article #101.
In the end, I’ve given up trying to comprehend why I publish ULTRAsomething. Maybe I’m trying to help my fellow searchers. Maybe I’m just marking a few trees. Or maybe I want to see how many different ways I can state the same thing: that photography should never be a product of one’s camera, but of one’s soul — even if it’s a masochistic one.
©2012 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: “Venus in Furs” was shot with a Leica M9 and a v5 50mm Summicron lens. “Metaphorically Apropos” and “Waiting for The Tide” (which, not coincidentally, is also metaphorically apropos to this article) were both shot with a Leica M2, using ADOX 100 film, which I developed in a 1:50 solution of Rodinal. The only difference is that I used a v4 35mm Summicron lens for the prior, and a 21mm Elmarit pre-ASPH for the latter.
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