Every couple of years, in what I presume must be an act of preventative penance, I crack open the archives of my photographic past and dive into its pool of rejects.
Perhaps “pool of rejects” is a bit of an understatement, considering my collection of failures is as vast as the Pacific Ocean and as deep as the Mariana Trench. The breadth and depth of rejects is particularly disheartening when considering how few photos I actually take. People on a week-long vacation return home with more photos than exist within my entire 30+ year archive. If this is the yield of a ‘discerning’ photographer, I’d hate to see what would happen if I were ‘cavalier.’
Apparently my penance reserves are running low, because this was one of those “every couple of years” months. After eight straight weeks of life-induced camera neglect, I had no new photos and another looming publication deadline. Since I’m loathe to write an ULTRAsomething essay without media content, and since my life-induced synthesizer neglect has been even more egregious than my camera neglect, I had no choice but to suit up and descend into the watery grave of rejects.
To survive any plunge into the archives and surface with at least a shred of remaining ego requires a very narrow and focussed approach. Diving across too wide an archival expanse produces the psychological equivalent of ‘the bends.’ So for this article, I chose to focus only on photos taken during this same two month period, but exactly one decade ago. Besides possibly salvaging a publishable image or two, I also hoped to answer one of those burning navel-gazing questions of mine: “Am I a better photographer now than I was 10 years ago?”
The answer, it seems, is “no.” Turns out I’ve seen absolutely no measurable growth as a photographer, which is only heartening when contrasted with the realization that I’ve also seen no measurable decline. I like to think this means I’ve established a ‘mature’ style, and not that I’ve stagnated. But then, I am a master of rationalization.
Curiously, my photography isn’t the only thing that hasn’t progressed much in a decade. I could see absolutely no fashion variances between now and 2009. Same hair; same clothes; same bags; same glasses; same everything. In fact, the only visual clue that I was looking at 10 year-old photos was the marked absence of smart phones. Although the iPhone was two years old in the summer of 2009, it (and its ilk) had yet to become the ubiquitous homogenizing device it is today. Which probably explains why my tendency to photograph people has declined in the past decade. Humans absorbed with their phones don’t really motivate my photographic urges.
The one area in which I absolutely expected to see self-improvement was in my curatorial skills. As I’ve said on many occasions, “A monkey could take the same photos I take. My skill is in selecting which ones should be published.” Alas, combing through mid-2009’s archives revealed that I’d pretty much mined everything that was mineable. Which explains why this article is accompanied by such mediocrity.
Ultimately, I managed to survive the archival descent with my ego mostly intact — unnerved only by the realization I could vividly remember taking every single photo. I recalled the circumstances surrounding each image as if I took it a few weeks ago; not a decade ago. I could remember which way I was walking; what camera I was using; how the image presented itself to me; what I chose to eliminate from the scene — everything! Which means I’m now so old that the passage of a decade has become statistically insignificant. But since I’ve already met this year’s quota for mortality-based freak outs, I’m choosing to willfully ignore this one.
Hopefully, I’ll find my way out of camera-neglect next month. Ideally, what I’d really like is to find my way out of synthesizer-neglect. It’s been an awfully long time since I tortured the world with some new music…
©2019 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS:
As discussed in the article, every accompanying photo was taken in mid-2009. Because it’s my nature to fret about such things, I struggled with whether to mark them as ©2009 or ©2019 — ultimately reaching the conclusion that no one is ever going to steal one of my photos, so it doesn’t matter one whit.
For those who like to reminisce about digital cameras from days long passed, I will inform you that “Time Served, “Portrait of an Individualist” and “Scout” were all shot with a Leica M8 and a 28mm f/2 Summicron lens. Meanwhile, “Shoes of Damacles,” “Logjam” and “Flight” were all photographed with the very first micro four-thirds camera — the Panasonic Lumix G1. Since no lens data is embedded in the photos, I’m reasonably certain that all were taken with the Leica 28mm f/2 using a Novaflex M-to-m43 adapter.
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