Many years ago, when I was still silly enough to believe I could earn a living with photography, I went to renew an insurance policy. When the agent saw “photographer” listed on my form, she got very excited.
“Oh wow! You’re a professional photographer!” she exclaimed. “This is my lucky day.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, I’m a pretty good photographer myself, but I’m not a pro yet. But since you are, that means you know all the secret spots for taking the prettiest sunset photos.”
She paused, looking at me hopefully. “Come on. You can tell me, can’t you?” she asked with a coquettish tilt of the head.
“Umm… any place where you can see the western sky?” I answered hesitantly.
“Oooh! That’s a great tip!” she chirped. “Maybe some place high, so you can see more of the sky, right?”
“Depends on what you want,” I said. “Do you just want a photo of the sky, or do you want it to have some context? Maybe some buildings in the foreground? Or people? Or some kind of object or natural element that you want silhouetted by the orange glow?”
“No. I want something that looks professional. I don’t want anything blocking the view,” she stated emphatically. “So you’re saying I should go up on top of Mt. Seymour if I want to get the best sunset photos?”
I had said no such thing.
“I’m so glad we met. I knew a professional like you would have the answer.”
This may have been the precise moment when I realized I never again wanted to be called a “photographer.”
“I am not a photographer.”
It’s a statement I’ve made several times, and one that some readers probably find curious — what with the whole photo-centric nature of ULTRAsomething these past 9 years.
A while back, in an article called “POV,” I shone a tiny light on this proclamation: “I know I’m not a photographer,” I wrote, “because every time I see an article titled ’10 Photos Every Photographer Should Know How To Take,’ I quickly ascertain that I have absolutely no desire to take any of them.”
It was one of my patented (pending) tongue-in-cheek over-simplifications of a more complex entanglement of issues. But it sufficed as a place-holder until I got around to penning a more thoughtful analysis.
So here it is: I am not a photographer, because I see photography as nothing more than a means to an end. It is not, in and of itself, a destination. Photography (or at least what I would consider captivating photography) is merely a way to express and share what it is that really interests you; concerns you; fascinates you. Show me a person who lists their primary interest as “photography,” and I’ll show you someone with a portfolio full of generic photos — the sort of person who reads articles titled, ’10 Photos Every Photographer Should Know How To Take.’
The best photographs exist because someone has a genuine interest in the photo’s subject — a person in a portrait; the rituals of culture; a moment of conflict; the subtle interplay of angles on a building — and not because they were looking for an excuse to activate their camera.
So if photography is a means to an end, and “the end” is to facilitate, document or motivate our true interests, then what exactly is my interest?
It’s easy to photograph the spectacular. But spectacular is a facade. I’m interested in how a subject looks or behaves for the 99% of the time it isn’t on display. I’m interested in the flower that’s already bloomed; the peacock that isn’t strutting; the theatre on its dark night; the student who graduates in the middle of their class; the river a quarter mile downstream from the waterfall; the commuter stuck between work and home. And yes, the western sky under the full, flat noonday sun.
It’s within the mundane where one finds true beauty. The photos I take are merely to remind me of this. But then, I am not a photographer.
[CONTINUED IN PART 2…]
©2017 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
“Shinjuku” was shot with a Leica M Monochrom (Type 246) and a 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar lens. It’s a photo that completely encapsulates the feeling I get from the back alleys of Shinjuku — my favourite place to hang out in Tokyo (even if I do it with a tiny bit of trepidation). No such trepidation exists in Yoyogi Park, which is where I shot “Extreme Portraiture”, using the same camera and lens. “Aftermath” was shot back in Vancouver at ISO 400 on Tri-X with a Leica M6TTL fronted with a 35mm Summicron (v4) and processed in HC-110 Dilution H.
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