It seems like I’ve started every post with “A couple of years ago” but today it might work well with the title so… A couple of years ago I was on the subway going to Mass Art and a perfectly normal woman got on. She was 40ish, decently dressed, probably going to work. She took a seat and started chanting and rocking while hugging herself. “Repetition Repetition Repetition is the Key… REPETIIITIIIIOOOON” And she kept that up for 15 minutes, maybe longer but we made it to my stop and I got off. Subway cars are strange places, or maybe super normal depending on your outlook. Everybody is packed in next to everybody else but its like we all signed a contract at birth that we’ll try as hard as we can to pretend that no one else is there. I believe that the primary reason for free bullshit newspapers and magazines given away at t-stops is that it gives you something to pretend to look at while you and every one else engages in this “I promise to not acknowledge your existence if you do the same” routine that happens twice a day in every city in this country, if not the world.
This woman was shocking and annoying at first, but after a while she got me thinking, she might not be a wackadoodle. She could be a genius. Every one on that subway car was repeating something. I was hungover on my way to school, something I did at least a couple times a week for 4 years, they could be taking the same line to the same job they’ve been going to every week day for a decade or more. Besides breaking the basic subway social contract of not being quiet and motionless (except for maybe a whispered ‘excuse me’ when exiting the vehicle) I think she made people uneasy because she was pointing out how much of our lives is spent covering the same ground either literally (subway conductors never choose the scenic route) or metaphorically.
Which brings me to my actual point, while I know I have grown as a photographer, I’ve basically been doing the same thing for 5 years now. Almost every photograph I’ve taken was started with me camera in hand, approaching some one and saying “Excuse me…” Either I’m a one trick pony or I found something early on that I have been working on ever since. It feels a little silly to say knowing that a lot of artists spend their entire lives in the same genre, but 5 years seems like a long time to me. Who knows, in 10 years I might work at a bank and never take pictures again. I don’t want to say that I’m severely limited as a photographer, I think that photographing human beings in their natural environment is a rich and important endeavor, one worthy of a lifetime of effort. Better than counting money anyways.
I’ve heard other artists refer to their work as something of a game they play. Not a frivolous pursuit, but you always have the same basic elements (in my case a frame and a person). What makes it rewarding is though it is limited to certain parameters what you do inside of them is infinitely variable and all up to you. The real trick is to somehow play the same game, year after year, and keep it fresh.
So I have this frame (now square) and I have a subject (who ever is in front of me) what the hell am I going to do? There is a natural (to me) way of doing things, but later when I have a stack of prints in front of me it’s the different that jumps out. Pictures where I got too close or too far away, when I shot into the sun or from up high. Most of the time they don’t really work but there’s the kernel of idea in there that could, with practice, be perfected.