These are tools of my father. My father was a master carpenter and entrepreneur, though his business never got even mid-sized. In a way he was – and still is – always the working man.
It is years ago that I took this image. Just look at the file name or the URL: mid-August 2006! That’s before I began this blog.
I’m still here in Carinthia, beautiful autumn days outside, the trees in their most glorious colors, I confined to the apartment, sick of being sick. Well, not much longer. But of course I was not outside yesterday, thus the archive image.
For no particular reason I began looking for an image from the beginning, browsing my early D200 images in chronological order and … they suck. They really do. Most of them do. No that’s not really differentiating, most of my images still suck, but on any given day, I can be sure that I will have a workable image.
Not so then. Oh my! Not only did my images suck, I made so few of them! I didn’t even properly try to make them not suck.
I can best see it in framing. Today when I frame an image, I normally know what I do. I attempt a certain effect, and this is so pronounced, that even after a long time, even if I don’t remember the exact incident, I can immediately see why I framed the image as it is, I understand what I wanted to achieve, even when the image was ultimately a failure. They are my images and I understand my images.
It’s not that I don’t recognize my early images, sure I do, but so very often I recognize them through the locations. I know the places, I can remember many of the incidents, but what I don’t recognize is the style.
Style? Huh?? Bold word for someone denying having one!
Indeed. Uhhh … well … there’s not only black and white, there are shades in between. I am slowly accepting the idea of style being more than a marketing instrument. I am still convinced that much of what goes as “style” is nothing but self-inflicted artistic petrification, annihilation of creativity from fear of changing from a formula that has been found to sell.
There is a deeper meaning though. While the word style is commonly understood as a characteristic of a particular artist’s work, that can be recognized by the recipient, even without knowing the artist, i.e. understood as a distinguishable property of the work, there is merit in looking at style from the artist’s perspective. Here, style is not a result, it is a process, and ultimately it is a way of thinking, a way of analyzing the world. I may frequently change tools, change between color and b&w, change between realistic post-processing and Photoshop plugins like Alien Skin Snap Art, I may do that from one image to the next, may do it within one post and change back with the next, but I change my way of thinking, of analyzing the world, only very slowly, and only due to an ever ongoing learning process.
This is what I mean when I say I don’t recognize my style in these old images. When I see them, frankly, I have no idea what I thought then. There is not much continuity with what I do now. The images could as well have been taken by someone else.
It’s pretty interesting to see how it all began and where the roots are of how I work today. I have not gone back to the early 5 megapixal Kodak images, I guess I should view them systematically as well, but I guess it won’t make much of a difference. What finally made a difference, was when I bought my second SLR lens.
My first lens was a Nikon 18-200 VR, and when I bought the D200, this long range was actually a step back from the even longer range of the Kodak. I was just used to zooming and to the universal availability of all focal lengths.
My second lens was a Sigma 30/1.4, my first prime, and though I can’t remember why exactly I bought a prime at all, I suppose it was the “myth of primes”, it immediately made a difference. Constricted to a frame of a certain size, I began to compose. Not being able to zoom, made me work harder, think deeper, and from that time on I see images that I can identify with. These are images that I have put thoughts into, and the ways of those thoughts are still traceable for me.
Now, what can be learned of all that? Two things:
Productivity may not be the only key to improvement, but it helps a lot. My productivity increased tremendously, when I began to publish a daily photoblog. If you want to get better, there is no better thing than practice, and the rigid discipline of a daily blog is keeping you practicing more than you otherwise would. It’s not as intense as doing it as a job, but it leaves you more freedom to explore.
The second thing is: the “myth of primes” exists for a reason. Restrictions make you work harder, and that improves your work as well.
The Song of the Day is “The Working Man” from the 1968 self-titled Creedence Clearwater Revival debut album. Hear it on YouTube.