Learning to Walk Again

Today, Monday, my region (the region where I live, it isn’t mine, more’s the pity) progressed to Phase One of lockdown easing (that de-escalated quickly) having spent a couple of weeks in the preparatory Phase Zero.

Phase Zero itself has meant a little more in the way of freedom and started us on our journey toward normality (or New Normality, as if normality colonised the future) with daily exercise being allowed at certain times and within a certain distance of home.

This has meant I’m no longer limited to the flat in terms of where I can make pictures, and I’ve been taking my camera with me on my walks most days. These are my two favourite pictures from the final couple of weeks at home.

I decided to stop participating in the Instagram hashtag #SceneFromHome for a few different reasons. I was making photographs at home anyway – because I enjoy making photographs, it’s something I’ve done for about half my life now and it’s now part of how I go through life and how I see the world – so it wasn’t really influencing my creativity. However, after having one particular picture do well in terms of ‘Likes’, I didn’t want to succomb to the temptation to post more of a certain type of picture that might be successful on social media. I was making the pictures anyway because I’m generally looking at things around me and wondering how I could photograph those surroundings, and on lockdown I had plenty of time to think about and act upon those ideas, but I didn’t want the fickle mistress of popularity to begin to dictate my output.

If I was going to ‘share my work’ on Instagram, I wanted to be sharing work that I had decided to create when the complete range of possibilities were open to me – when I could go anywhere and photograph anything I liked – rather than photographs of what I was able to photograph at the moment but that might also happen to be popular.

Since being allowed out to exercise, I’ve been able to photograph subjects more in line with those that normally appeal to me, but there has also been something of an impulse to document the situation that is unfolding around us. I’ve decided to avoid sharing these on social media for much the same reason. I did not make any of the photographs with social media in mind, these are all photographs I made because I wanted to document a particular scene, but it’s hard to resist the call of the algorithm to share photographs – most of which I think are quite good – that are of moment within the instantaneous, constant-sharing culture in which we now live.

Similar to the photographs made at home, these are photographs I decided to make because something appealed to me either visually or socio-culturally, but I’m working with the range of subjects I have available to me, not necessarily the ones I might normally choose to seek out and photograph. Like in any activity we choose to engage in, there is a certain hierarchy of preferences – there’s the music we choose to listen to and there’s the car radio when we’re stuck in traffic; there’s the books we might choose to read and then there’s the book we picked up at the train station because we needed something to fill the next four hours.

In general, over the past couple of weeks while sat at home pondering things on lockdown, I’ve realised that I want to be more considered and intentional in my approach to Photography, and the photographs I share with people. I want to avoid sharing all my latest work as soon as I’ve made it, before quickly moving on to the next set of photographs without stopping to think about the bigger picture. I want to evaluate the work I’m creating more critically and have a greater sense of its overall direction.

I’m not really sure what that direction is, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t pictures of fragments of my flat, or people wearing face masks and socially distancing from one another, although there is a lot of that to photograph at the moment, and for a while all I could really photograph was fragments of my flat. In an earlier post, I wrote that I generally photograph ‘stuff’ … things … things which appeal to me for some reason, be it visual or because it represents something of socio-cultural interest. The pictures below are the ones which I’m most happy with since being able to go outside again. They’re the ones which best represent what I like to photograph, and represent me finding things of interest rather than working with what was available.

Not knowing the direction is something which bothers me quite frequently and about which I spend a lot of time thinking. However, I do also know – but find it difficult to accept that – I’m unlikely to come up with a direction for my work while sitting around thinking about it. I know that, but still I try to do it. I still try to force myself down particular paths that I think I should follow, when I know it to be true that, as I read recently in (what follows is my own rough translation of) El olvido que seremos by Héctor Abad Faciolince:

“The worst thing you can do in life is to not be who you are (…) in any and all cases, the most destructive thing for your personality is to act or pretend, be one of those bad copies that come from appearing to be what one is not while simultaneously hiding what one is, both certain recipies for unhappiness, and also for poor taste.”

This theme has come up several times in the podcasts I’ve been listening to while out walking this week – The Contact Sheet from Kyle McDougall – and which have been the perfect accompaniment to my (mandated) hour-long walks. I’ve listened to other photographers who have perhaps not always known the exact direction of their work, but have found their own way by photographing what most appeals to them, identifying what that is, and working with decidation. As Antonio Machado said: “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” – Wanderer, there is no path, one makes ones path by walking it.

Ever since I saw someone attribute “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” to Kelly Clarkson instead of Nietzsche, I try to be careful with quoting songs – especially ones which seem unusually profound considering the artist in question – but as far as I know this does actually come from The Ataris: “the hardest part isn’t finding what you need to be, it’s being content with who you are”.

I enjoy going for walks, and I enjoy making photographs of things that I see. That’s about all I reallyknow for now, and that’s a fairly good starting point … in fact, just enjoying those two things would be a fairly decent end point. Now seems like I good time to hit the reset button, try and leave some baggage behind, and set off on the journey again and do my best to enjoy it without worrying too much about the destination.

3 Comentarios

  1. Great stuff Owain! Love the photos and your analysis on social media addiction and motivation for everyday photography. I can relate to most of it 🙂
    I think in the end if we stick to doing simply what we enjoy doing , the rest will come naturally. Overthinking is another problem of mine and i tend to remind myself to just “go with the flow” (QOTSA) 😉 and enjoy the process.

    1. Thanks again for the feedback Yuri. Glad you enjoyed the post – I wasn’t sure about some parts of it but decided to post anyway because it’s only a blog post and I might as well share what I was thinking even if it wasn’t ideally formulated or expressed, quite. Nice to know that someone can relate.

      You’re right that it’s an overthinking issue. I also struggle to let it all go and just do what I want to do without thinking too much. I miss some of the innocence I had when I first started with photography (and how quickly it went away) and was happy trying to make pictures I was happy with without thinking too much. Still, I do enjoy the process even now, even if I do think too much and maybe take some of the enjoyment out of it – there’s still enough left to make it plenty worthwhile.

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