As Time Goes By Finding the photographer within

Photography, for me at least, has been a solitary endeavor and I like it that way. When I grab my camera and drive to some new (or familiar) location, part of the excitement is not knowing what I will create and not having to worry about anything or anyone. I like to let what's in front of me slowly unfold until it eventually reveals itself.

Some will argue that taking a photograph is simply extracting part of a scene that already exists so there's no real interpretation involved on the part of the photographer. I don't subscribe to this notion.

The famed photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." I think that's true but it took me a long time to truly understand what he meant.

When I started capturing still images, I wanted to be an accomplished photographer right away and...I my own mind. What I've realized since then is that my ability to assess my own progress has shifted at the same rate as my accumulated experience. When I first began capturing images, I had no real sense of what I wanted to do. My time shooting up to that point was quite limited and I had learned very little. In my naïveté, I thought my photographs were really something special. When I look back on that work now, with over ten years of experience under my belt, my photographs seem positively amateurish.

I believe in the old adage that says "there is no substitute for experience". When I bought my first serious camera, I read every single photography book I could find. While they all helped me to understand and operate my camera, none really taught me how to be a photographer. There were many volumes that discussed the philosophy of capturing an image but it didn't mean anything until I actually began shooting and, over time, discovered my own vision.

Then one day everything began to make sense. I understood that I was no longer a simple practitioner of the medium, in fact the camera itself was now just a means to an end. Photography, I realized, started with an urge to create. It was no longer important for me to capture a technically perfect image, although I understood the theory of how to do that. What was important was knowing how to capture the essence of my response to a place, person or thing and present those thoughts and emotions in a two dimensional picture.

One of the highest compliments I have ever received from someone was when he told me that I helped him see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Suddenly, he was able to see a beauty in his daily life that had previously eluded him. Wow.

So what am I trying to say here? I think there are two types of photography. One is where the scene is captured as faithfully as possible and the camera does most of the work. The other has the photographer, as faithfully as possible, capturing his or her vision in a coherent image.

A tall order? Yes, but there are countless photographers out there who have tapped into this realm. Ansel Adams did it in his landscape work. Sebastiäo Salgado does it in his epic portrait and environmental images. Richard Avedon transcended portraiture and fashion to an art form. These are just a few examples but the list goes on.

There are times when I feel like I have found a portal into this world. I feel it when i hold my camera and look through the viewfinder. What I see is constantly a wonder to me and my excitement is almost always brimming over the edge. I think it's that reverence for image making that keeps my passion alive.

In the meantime, I know that when ten more years have passed, I will look back on my present work and feel the evolution of my thoughts and ideas. I'm curious to know what my future self will make of the person presently sitting in this chair. Only time will tell.

My initial idea for this blog post was to write about my recent visit to Balboa Park in San Diego but I obviously went off on a serious tangent. That being said, I'll mention it briefly now.

When I first arrived at the park it was to meet up with a group of photographers for the global 500px/Fujifilm Photowalk. Sadly, I mixed up the actual meeting place and missed the event. I was with my daughter Tara so we decided to do our own walk instead. No point in squandering an opportunity to shoot such a beautiful venue.

Balboa Park is all about light and depth (click on each image for a larger version).
Who could resist shooting this very cool sculpture?
This sign and the texture of the wall reminded me of an old Charlton Heston-style movie.
I don't shoot many candid moments but I liked this man's stance and his big hat.
Aside from the spectacular light and architecture, there's a little mystery there in the darkness.
Something about the shadow of the stair rail in the background caught my eye.
The silhouette of the rail and the textures drew me in to this composition.
A Lost World

Walking around the wonderful grounds of Balboa Park makes me feel like I am exploring another planet. It's hard to believe downtown San Diego is just a mile away going about its business.

Exotic Land

Not exactly exotic to those who live here but, to me, these trees represent something unfamiliar. This is especially so given my previous abodes in Ireland, New York and Seattle. It is fascinating to me that these long skinny trunks don't just keel over.

I think this door is really interesting for reasons I can't describe. What more is there to say?

Shooting places and things is one thing but once a person is inserted into the mix, the entire meaning is transformed. Tara is really photogenic and is very comfortable in front of the camera. Her dress and hat gave her a classic look that worked well with black and white. The resulting shots made me think of a spread in Vogue Magazine from the fifties.

Tara contrasts dramatically with the light and architecture (click images for larger versions).
This young child unexpectedly bolted across the frame just as I pressed the shutter.

If you would like to keep up with my travels, click on the button below and sign up to be notified of new posts. Peace.

Created By
Steven Dempsey

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