In an attempt to spice things up a little, I’m going to be podcasting a few blog entries — they’ll simply be an unabridged reading of the entry, possibly with a variety of retarded localised accents to make things interesting. I have no idea if it’ll work well or at all but I may as well give it a try — perhaps continue surfing the web while I read to you in the background? Forgive the vanity to your right… but I have to get my kicks somehow.
I can’t do a very good Italian accent, so don’t laugh! Fast forward to 3:40 if you want to just hear the ‘exciting’ bit with the shitty Italian accent, and a hint of Dan Brown-esque American storytelling…
Photographers have it easy compared to our painter comrades. We both deal in luminance and colour, tone, texture and saturation, but at the end of the day painters start with a blank canvas and nothing but the camera of their mind’s eye. Some painters will probably tell you that it makes their life easier, being able to create anything their imagination conjures up. Surely though, controlling the minuscule movements of mixing pigment and the brush itself is infinitely more difficult than raising the shutter on a camera. Then there are those that claim photography is harder — you can only work with what you’ve been given. There is some leeway of course: trickery of the eye and your ability to move props and pose models, but at the end of the day, that’s all you have: you can’t magic a dragon out of thin air.
Photography is all about working with what you’ve got. There is a small amount of knowledge that you need to know before you can operate a camera but we’re talking 3 or 4 simple equations — and the ability to push down a button. Point, and shoot. You can affect how much light enters the camera and that’s it. It’s because of this simplicity and the switch-over to digital cameras that we’re now swamped with thousands of photographers; you, your mother and her mother can be a photographer. It’s no surprise then that selling photos has also become a lot harder: there are more photos in circulation and thus it’s harder to be seen. You can still get lucky, but more than likely your only chance to make money today is as a stock or paparazzi photographer. Like almost every art form it’s one big labour of love: you pray that one day you’ll become the next Monet or Ansel Adams but chances are you won’t. There are so few rich artists, it’s depressing.Whether it’s due to a lack of talent or saturation of the market I don’t know. What I do know is the one thought that courses through the mind of every person that’s made art their life-long dream: will I only be famous after I die?
To separate themselves from the pack, to stand out, artists try to be different. ‘Yet another photo of some daffodils’ isn’t quite as appealing as ‘Exploding daffodils in the bedroom of the woman that broke my heart’. Almost every photographer you’ve heard of or seen today will have been unique — that’s what it takes to not sink into the mire of boring, formulaic photographers, your voice forever unheard, your view of the world unseen.
It’s all about chasing the perfect photo. Like storm-chasers, train-spotters or groupies chasing the perfect tornado, rare train or celebrity photographers must try so, so hard to get the perfect photo. Place yourself one centimeter to the left and you might ruin the entire photo. You might have to wait for a cloud to cover the sun to get the perfect light conditions, or even wait for the sun to be in the perfect position before you take the photo. A landscape could be completely average and nondescript at midday, but the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen at 5pm as the sun begins to set.
Photographing people is another beast entirely: the merest flick at the corner of a girl’s lips might make or break a photo. A glint of sun refracting off her eye could change the meaning and the impact. Is she breathing in or out; are her muscles tensed or relaxed? Even the greatest photographers of all time might take thousands of photos of the same setup — as the years go by, the ratio of good-to-bad photos will improve but you’re still searching for perfection, and sometimes that’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Fortunately I’m a landscape photographer. I’m quite good at portrait work, I just don’t have the experience — and being a good photographer takes a lot of experience. Landscapes don’t go anywhere: the sun continues to rise, the clouds roll on by — you can keep practicing and practicing, with landscapes. With people… it’s a little trickier. One day I’ll put in the hours and chain down one of my photogenic female friends, get the lights out and go to town! One day.
So there I was in Venice, up a clock tower. It was 3pm and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. Being the geek that I am, I phoned my dad and asked him what time the sun would set — 6pm, 3 hours away. Fine, I can wait 3 hours. I’ve got a book and a bottle of water. There are all sorts of pretty tourist girls swanning around that I can chat to, and take photos of (with their own cameras, of course!) Two hours pass, it starts to get dark, my pulse quickens. I dart around the tower, surveying how different Venice looks in the fading light, looking for the perfect angle for the perfect photo.
‘The tower will be closing in 10 minutes, please take the elevator back down.’
Shit. I smile and nod at the Italian, my mind quickly working through the available solutions: I wasn’t about to head back down the tower after waiting for two hours! It wasn’t a big tower, and there weren’t any obvious dark corners. I looked up and wondered if I could wedge myself inside the bell itself. Maybe in films… but not here in real life. I was out of time and only one option remained: climb out one of the windows and cling to the wall. They do it in films… they inch themselves along a thin ledge…
The Italian usher was slowly walking around the tower, shooing people into the elevator. I only had 30 seconds to decide — wuss out and waste two hours of my life, or… chase the photo. I jumped onto the windowsill and looked down — Shit — I turned around and inched backwards until my toes were on the ledge — Crap — I reach to the left and grab the edge of the next portal — Phew — I’m safe for now, but the pounding of my heart against the ancient brick wall would suggest I’m still in in a wee spot of bother. Finally, the sound of the descending elevator! I slide myself along the ledge, my feet now splayed like a ballet dancer’s and pull myself back inside.
There I am, all alone and king of the hill! I camped out for another hour, constantly assessing the landscape, sizing up the prey, waiting to strike. An hour later, I struck gold — a full moon! A total fluke, but completely deserved. I pulled out the camera, struck a pose not unlike a war-time sniper and… wait! A big ship too! Click. Bang!
That’s how I chased my perfect photo of Venice. It’s not a stereotypical view of Venice but I challenge you to find another like it.
It was getting cold and I had no food; I was out of water and thirsty. I packed up quickly and pushed the call button on the elevator. Nothing. I pushed it again. Still nothing. I looked out through a window and grinned in the darkness, wondering if it was possible.
To be continued…