Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Constipated Photographer

Four or five years ago Vivian Maier came to my attention, or perhaps more correctly, her recently discovered photographs did. Like everyone, I was impressed by her work and shocked that she never had an audience whilst she was alive. Since then her reputation has grown exponentially and, if you google her now, hundreds of her images can be viewed. If you can afford the thousands asked they can also be bought. The dead artist syndrome? Perhaps. But she was a class photographer right up there with the greats in my opinion and deserves her belated fame.

A strange lonely woman who worked as a nanny and quietly photographed the life around her, keeping the pictures she took mainly to herself. Self-taught, she was able to capture intimate portraits of ordinary people in that passing second of transient meetings and putting herself in undoubtedly dangerous situations for anyone, never mind a woman. She was obviously clever in appearing unthreatening, but also she lived in a time when intrusive street photography was less known and much more widely tolerated that today. Using a camera that requires you to have your head down, thus avoiding any challenging eye contact, definitely helps. Being a woman helps, too. But for anyone, having the courage to take pictures of strangers who might react badly, is a brave and difficult task. She was incredibly courageous in walking through tough, rough city areas, traveling into the city on her day's off to get her pictures. 

Being on her own and with no way to show her pictures, meant she was a kind of journalist, but one without a newspaper. So she was free to take what she wanted, for herself. She was free of professional or peer pressure to get the sort of pictures they might expect of her. That allowed her the freedom to get the pictures she did. She wasn't a constipated photographer in the way I am. 

I've been taught and I've earned my living through pleasing the photographic demands of others. And I've been trying for years to free myself from this conditioning and finding it very hard to do. The fact is I'm constipated. Blocked with all that professional conditioning and concern for technicalities and sharpness and composition and whatever. Enabling myself to just 'see' and shoot freely is proving difficult to impossible. When I look at my pictures to me they seem contrived. Pretty enough but without any worth or insight. It's obvious I won't be leaving any legacy people might want to treasure. And I won't unless I can unblock myself. I need to wander and allow myself to see and photograph what's around me without contrivance or artifice on my part. To record those fleeting moments in life that will never be recorded unless I press the button in the manner of Vivian Maier.
I'm tempted to go back to basics and get an old twin lens reflex camera and put some film through it. Good therapy perhaps. 

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