I generally try and limit the negativity on this blog and keep it confined to … most other areas of my life. I’m unsure how successful I’ll be this time but I do want to write this post because I don’t feel that I can write about most of my photography from the last year honestly without doing so in these terms.
Essentially, last year I didn’t produce a lot of photographs that are of any particular interest to me. I made a fairly small amount of work, about which I ultimately feel disconnected and nonplussed. I forgot I had even made some of the photographs that will appear subsequently, and yet appear they will as I want to think about why this is.
This also isn’t limited to 2022, there’s a lot of work from 2021 and previous years that would fall under the same analysis but a year seems like a large enough period of time to analyse, and also a sensible limit to stop me from analysing fifteen years of my photographic output. I dye grass.
¿Por qué no te Calles?
Our first set of photographs, one I had indeed forgotten about for a while, were made on a trip to the small town/large village (who can tell?) of Calles, inland from Valencia. We went there to get away from the city, see a little bit of the countryside, and at least in part because of the meme value of the town’s name. It would also be an ideal place to practice fotografía callejera, surely?
Not really. It was a Saturday in a small rural town, and people were quite understandably living their lives either behind closed doors or elsewhere in their own free time. In one day, and particularly a weekend, a representative picture of what life is like isn’t going to present itself. The result is that I photographed what was there to be seen, some observations of a small rural town and that’s that. I don’t think the photographs that follow are abjectly bad, but nor do I think they’re particular good, interesting or even memorable – as is evidenced by the fact that I myself forgot that I had made them.
Cold Day in the Sun
This next set of photographs were part of an effort to both a) Love Where You Live and appreciate what Valencia has to offer rather than constantly seeking to escape the city at the earliest opportunity and photograph … random small towns to which I may or may not have a personal connection; and b) Wanting What You’ve Got, in this case my digital camera which had been somewhat neglected as the appeal of wandering around with my smaller, lighter and more enjoyable to use film cameras saw me reach for those more often.
A rather large film bill from the summer of 2021 had seen me reach for the digital camera as a way of replenishing my finances a bit after a couple of months off work enjoying myself.
By this stage, though, it wasn’t just the cost of film (and processing/scanning) that was seeing me step back, but some of the convenience of digital was becoming appealing again. With the photographs from Calles it had been very easy to get a look I was consistently happy with, and to make any changes to the RAW files needed to reach that point.
In late February we had gone for an evening walk along the beach at Pinedo. I had taken my digital camera on the off-chance and ended up with 72 frames, the equivalent of two rolls of film, as the golden evening light made everything look worth photographing.
A lot is said about ‘the film look’ but the colour from my digital feels seemed really pleasant to me without any changes beyond minor tweaks to the shadow and highlight values to balance some of the natural contrast in the exposures. (A lot is also said about digital camera manufacturers ‘colour science’ as well, though. There’s just a lot said on the Internet … he says, writing something to be read on the Internet.)
I still didn’t enjoy using my digital camera as much, but the output had never been in question, and the potential savings were becoming more relevant as travel and other expenses that had been minimised during the lockdown periods were once again making demands on my budget.
In March, I decided to spend a day photographing at the Malvarrosa, the beach most accessible to the city of Valencia, with my digital camera. As often happens, as I made my way through Cabanyal and onto the beachfront, I began collecting photographs of street furniture.
As in Granada later in the year, though, I decided to ‘push myself’ out of my ‘comfort zone’ (naturally, this being a blog post about creativity on the Internet) of photographing the effects of winter on the beach’s infrastructure, and start to try and include some people in the photographs. The result are some photographs that to me show everyday life and people enjoying a bright Spring day on the Malvarrosa.
In this case it’s harder to pin-point why I just don’t really care about these photographs, but I suspect it comes down to the fact that, ultimately, I could go down to the beach on any given day and produce a set of pictures which is fundamentally similar. There isn’t anything wrong with them, and in some cases there’s a nice moment or scene depicted, but there also isn’t anything particularly special about them. A photographic low-hanging fruit.
(Rubielos de) Mora the same thing.
The case of these photographs will be similar to the first set from Calles. On a Sunday in April we travelled up to Rubielos de Mora in the high, rugged, and sparsely populated province of Teruel. It was one of those rare days with an interesting sky rather than the usual (in Valencia) cloudless blue, which did add some appropriate character to the pictures of a town deep in a challenging terrain.
Once again, though, there weren’t many other people wandering around. We did briefly make the acquaintance of a man walking his two dogs, and I did ask if he minded my photographing him … unfortunately he did mind so that didn’t happen.
Again, the pictures are observations of the visible surfaces of a rural town. There are some hints as to what it might be like for its inhabitants, but those inhabitants are enjoying their weekend either behind closed doors or elsewhere, and I do not know them, nor am I one of them. These are scenes without protagonists, the lights and the camera set but without any ‘Action!’ of which to speak.
Returning to the scene of the crime
A few years ago I spent quite a few months working, almost simultaneously, on two bodies of work: one in the town of Segorbe, and one on La Huerta Valenciana. I’m still pretty happy with both bodies of work now, and spent a lot of time in each place, visiting and revisiting to create a good amount of work from which to edit down a strong selection.
This is also something which separates those two bodies of work from any of the above which are also isolated sets of photographs without any real continuity, due to a lack of either geographical or emotional connection to the subject. Segorbe was somewhere we would frequently go at weekends and is one of the places where my partner at the time had grown up. La Horta Nord was just a short walk away from where we were living at the time, and I could go out on foot from our house and be where I wanted to photograph in under 15 minutes. Calles and Rubielos de Mora were both towns relatively far away with which I had no, even second-hand, sentimental connection, and the Malvarrosa is … well, it’s just a sandy beach near the city, and I’m someone who finds most beaches to be fundamentally the same and not all that interesting. I’d rather look at the countryside.
At some point after we moved to the other side of Valencia, away from the Horta Nord, I did go and explore a section of Huerta between Valencia and Paterna, and used up a few rolls of film there. Unlike La Horta Nord, though, I never seemed to find anyone tending their fields to add some human interest to the photographs, which again became another collection of pictures of fields, objects or semi-rural infrastructure.
Still, on a couple of occasions in late Spring, in the absence of any other escape from the concrete jungle, and with golden hour now stretching later into the evening, I did wander out there again and produce … essentially the same photographs as the first two times, but this time with a digital camera. It feels like a band covering their own song, but the first time they recorded it, the idea was new and fresh and sung with some conviction while the second time lost all of that … like a CSI theme song by The Who.
In a similar vein, since concluding the original body of work which felt like I had exhausted most of what I could photograph on the streets of Segorbe, I have made more photographs there but none really feel as though they’re adding to the original body of work, while also not being different enough to constitute their own. In another case of ‘is this a similar vein or just the same vein again?’ the photograph below might actually look familiar to avid readers because I essentially made the same image in 2020 with Black and White film.
In any case, all of this felt like going over old ground rather than progress, and that’s probably why I’m not especially thrilled with any of these photographs.
Los Cerezos Redux
In early Summer, before I left for Edinburgh, we made the seemingly annual trip to Los Cerezos, a village in the province of Teruel with which I could at least claim some kind of second/third-hand connection through my partner at the time(‘s family.) We had gone to stay with them for a couple of days each summer since 2020 (and I believe once before that) and I’ve always made a lap or two (since one lap really doesn’t take all that long) of the village at some point after the worst of the heat has passed and before the sun goes down.
Most people are still sleeping off their lunch (or just ‘not outside possibly because while the very worst of the heat may have passed, it is still baking hot, and if you’re not an eejit with a camera then why would you go outside?’) at this time so as in Calles and Rubielos de Mora, and my two previous explorations of Los Cerezos, I didn’t really see anyone on either circuit and created another set of photographs of a rural landscape, without any of the people who actually inhabit that landscape. Alas.
On the plus side, I finally got a picture in which the graffiti ‘Te super quiero’ on the side of a building is legible, having not been sufficiently well rendered by the Black and White film I used in 2020, nor the Colour film I used in 2021. Take the little wins, I guess.
14 Caveat Gold
The idea of this post has been to express honestly (I think I’m being honest but then it’s always worse to be a realist than a pessimist because a pessimist at least knows they’re pessimistic) my thoughts about a lot of the work that I produced last year.
It’s important (except it isn’t even a little bit important on a world scale but whatever) to remember that I did enjoy the process of wandering around with my camera photographing in all of these instances. The importance of remembering that is mostly centred on myself as someone with a tendency to overthink things (this blog post and others being my evidence were any needed) and question everything (but do I really question everything?) including whether I actually enjoy photography, particularly when faced with the notion that I’m not especially pleased with most of what I’ve produced in the last twelve months.
Why share any of them then? It’s part of the creative process, in that not everything we create will be our best, most enduring work. However, it’s also good to reflect on why such pieces of work aren’t as interesting or meaningful, and how to use this to keep moving forwards. I don’t believe the photographs shown here are necessarily bad, they’re just not very important to me, and in order to avoid going round in circles producing more work that isn’t ultimately satisfying (in terms of the finished product) it’s useful to evaluate why this might be the case.
In my previous post, I wrote that I had decided to make those photographs Black & White, and that this was something I wanted to embrace. In the very next post there isn’t a single Black & White image. Certainly in the case of the photographs from the beach, I do think the warm, soft colours along with the nature of the light lend themselves best to Colour. When making those photographs, I certainly wasn’t working with Black & White in mind, and I’ve not played around with alternative treatment to see how they might look. In my mind those are Colour photographs.
And ultimately it’s the same with the other sets. The photographs from Calles were made while paying attention to the light and colour present on that day. The ones from Rubielos de Mora lose far less (and in some cases improve) when converted to Black & White due to the overcast, sometimes gloomy light. These images were made before that later reflection on leaning into Black & White, and would perhaps have ultimately benefitted from that decision but for whatever reason I decided to present them as they were originally photographed. Fortunately, with a RAW file I can agonise over this decision back and forth endlessly (yay!) With the pictures from La Huerta de Paterna and Los Cerezos, I could probably go either way, but ultimately my feelings about what the work lacks wouldn’t be changed greatly by the superficial elements of style. The warm evening light makes for pleasant colours, but would also work well enough as a contrast Black & White image. A little from Column A, a little from Column B.
In the end, substance is more important than style, and with the right subject, I’m able to work in either Colour or Black & White depending on what might fit the subject matter best. It might be worth being more deliberate in approaching things in Black & White if I do believe that suits my work best, but I don’t want to be dogmatic about it should I encounter a subject that really does benefit from Colour. Again, though, it’s good to be aware of the decisions we are making about our work, why we are making them and what effect this might have on the work.
See if you can spot any further continuity errors next time as I continue my rudderless journey through the murky waters of photographic expression.