A History (Part 2)

So I got into BMX, then got out of BMX. I was 15 then I was 22. At 22 or so I was going through a depression. Perceived health issues, a lack of direction (not a bad thing unless one thinks it is, and I very strongly thought it was), debt, jobs that couldn’t enable me to get out of debt (they paid too little), parental pressure regarding a college education (my lack thereof) or career path all contributed. It was around this time that I picked up my first camera, a Nikon N65, shortly thereafter upgraded to an N75.

I remember vaguely the first roll of film (color negative, and I think some sort of Fuji) that I shot: some photographs around the Naval Academy Bridge which straddles the Severn River. Beside this bridge is a fishing pier, repurposed from what remains of the old Naval Academy bridge, projecting into the river some fifty yards. I was fascinated with this old bridge, both the interesting views from it—there was a piece of chainlink fence erected along a small portion that chunked up one’s views through it—and what I could find beneath it. I also photographed beneath the new bridge, from shore to shore across the river, between its supports—a popular single-point perspective composition still today. Nearby also were the hulking remains of an old dock restaurant on the river that had given up the ghost. The planks of the docks had been completely removed with the exception of the pylons which obviously weren’t worth the effort of removing, and remained, half rotted away sticking up from the water like so many broken shards. But for some reason my strongest memory is of one specific photo I took: the view projected upward at two excavators in profile parked on the side of the road at the foot of the bridge. The sky is mainly overcast and the excavators are a vivid orange, yellow, and blue. There is a lot of green in the lower half of the photo. In fact, the entire lower half of the photo is green because it was the grass slope leading from the park, where I was standing below, to the highway above. Then there is a portion of the barrier preventing one from driving off the road and down the hill (or into the river depending on how far up the bridge you might be). The excavators are at opposite ends of the picture. A completely forgettable photo of absolutely nothing. I don’t know what attracted me to it. I suppose because I just happened to be there, and it was something to shoot… (The colors of the excavators popped strongly against the white-grey of the sky too.) I had a fairly competent idea of image composure at the time, even for it being my first roll of film, though filling that much of the frame with nothing but grass is as a general rule not recommended (not saying it’s wrong, per se, but it only works infrequently filling the frame with that much of nothing).

The first name I remember knowing that belonged to the world of photography is Henri Cartier-Bresson. He is my most beloved of photographers today, but I can’t say where or when I first heard his name, or how I became familiar with the few images of his that I was familiar with. I had also heard the term “street photography” at some time as well (probably in connection with H.C.B.). This was all before ever picking up a camera, mind you. However, once acquiring my camera I web searched the phrase, “street photography”. On the first page of results, to my best recollection, was a link to a blog by a fellow, Dave Beckerman.

I was to follow Mr. Beckerman’s blog for the next couple of years until he went off into digital HDR-land and I grew disinterested with his photographs. But until that time his blog was a great resource for me, not to mention sheer joy and entertainment to read (he was, and still is, a marvelous writer and storyteller), and I loved his photographs and experiments (dragging a view camera onto a subway car for example).

When I got into photography digital cameras were of course not what they are today, and anybody professional, or anyone who cared about image quality still shot film. Dave was naturally then shooting film at the time, and I think these are his best images, to be honest. I remember early on he was still working for an ad agency (I think), and I remember him writing about leaving his job eventually so that he could focus on photography full-time. He used to sell his photos outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with numerous others, but then realized that he could harness the power of the web and sell online, and so he setup his first store. Of course he was still shooting film at this time, living in his cramped Manhattan apartment, which of course means that he needed dedicated (or at least modular) space for a darkroom, and was making all these prints he was shipping out to people by hand. He eventually bought a film scanner and experimented with that as well. It seems everything he was doing in the realm of photography was an experiment, though at the time all things digital workflow related were experimental, and this I think is one of the reasons his blog was so fascinating for me to read.

He referenced Bob Dylan a lot too.

Anyway, Dave was a big influence on me as I sank my teeth more deeply into photography. Eventually, pulling a bit out of my depression, I moved to downtown Annapolis, where I kinda am today. I started shooting in black & white with a film that could be developed with the same chemicals as color-negative. But not long after making the conversion to black & white I realized that I should probably learn how to develop it myself, partly to save money on processing costs, but also because that magical process that I knew nothing about fascinated me.

There has been for a long time a creative arts school located just on the edge of downtown Annapolis called Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts (fitting name, no?), and this is where I went for my pretty basic classes on film development and print making. I was taught by the venerable Dick Bond, a humorous teacher with somewhat wild, white hair, a sly gleam in his eye (think Doc Emmett Brown, Christopher Lloyd’s character in Back to the Future) and a predilection for shimmering black and white landscape photographs of forests and wetlands patiently shot with a large format camera.

I have since moved on from shooting film to shooting digital, not really because I want to (though I do like the flexibility in being able to convert an image from color to black and white and vice-versa), but because it’s impractical to travel with quantities of film and chemicals (especially when traveling by bicycle), and for the advantages of being able to so quickly edit an image and upload it to something like Instagram for immediate consumption by my legion of fans (that’s a joke, by the way).

I am continually developing new ways of seeing and photographing. The ability to shoot in either color or black and white on my Fuji has been the biggest contributor to this, as well as the trouble with manually focusing through the viewfinder of the X-Pro1 I was shooting with. I think also my initial discovery of photographers like Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, etc., and my rediscovery of them over the last year and a half has influenced to some extent what I think may be regarded as a relevant subject in a photograph. But I think also the paintings of Rembrandt and Caravaggio, and certain modern painters (Piet Mondrian for example) has influenced the direction that I am taking my interpretation of photography, or the photographic world.

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