Throwing Away Dusty Old Hats
Over the past two and a half years, my photographic process has been under continuous reduction and refinement to the point where it is now all about minimalism. I've swept the floors, thrown out the empty boxes and sold off the items I no longer need to a point where I shoot many subject matters with one perspective on one camera. After years of making pictures, my process has shifted its weight to the making of the pictures themselves and little else beyond the resulting images.
It took me a while to arrive at an understanding of what I really want to do as a photographer. That is to say that the most consistently rewarding style for me has been to document my life and experiences and the people I spend my time with, whether it's a portrait of my friends, street photography, the grandeur of the mountains I hike or interesting abstract moments. All of this has been facilitated by changing my photographic process away from what I was doing.
The idea of reducing my gear to something as simple as a rangefinder and a 35mm lens has come up a few times in the past, but it is such an important part of my process that is hard to hide, and not only that, it has continued to be the prime motivation for how I make pictures.
Whenever I hear about bundles of lenses and bags full of gear being taken on holidays, for example, I can't help but cringe at how distracted I would be by the options in front of me, and how much of a burden the gear would impose on my enjoyment of such a holiday, or event of any kind.
Gear Minimalisation Syndrome?
Maybe I've become a gear snob in the opposite direction, or I've become infected with an apparent rare disease called "Gear Minimalisation Syndrome", the opposite to Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I have an allergic reaction to having more than one camera body. I struggle with the choice of which camera to use when my main camera, the Leica M, does everything I need with fantastic results. Lenses don't present as much an issue. I do also have a Leica Summarit 50mm for those occasional and deliberate portraits, but thank the maker it's such a tiny lens because it barely makes a dent to my bag anyway.
The difference between carrying one versatile but very small camera instead of a large DSLR, zoom lenses with giant hoods in a backpack cannot be understated, at least for a range of use cases. Before I ever discovered the "small camera lifestyle" I used to lug around a holster bag loaded with a Canon 5D Mark III with a body grip, a 24-70mm F2.8 zoom lens and a smaller flash. All up it weighed about 2 kilograms, which doesn't sound like that much but after standing around for an hour with it at a venue or on a hike the weight really took its toll on my back and posture. I began to hate taking that gear anywhere, and I practiced photography far less as a result.
Now I'm making pictures non-stop all year, all with the one consistent perspective or point of view. If my 35mm lens or rangefinder camera body doesn't cater to a particular type of photograph, then I just don't make the photograph, or I might try to work around it by approaching it in a different way.
Dammit Jim! I'm A Photographer, Not An Editor!
An aspect of choosing pure amateur photography, that is to say "for the love of", is that I no longer have to subject myself to the waste of time of culling hundreds of images down to a small subset which work for a client, especially noticeable when most of those images are nothing more than variations on the same photograph.
There is something to be said about the film-like practice of thinking before you shoot. Compose, focus, meter, then consider, and if all boxes show a tick, click the shutter and put the photograph to bed and move on.
If I'm out for a day of shooting, even with my digital camera and room for over 400 raw files, I often shoot only 1-2 roll's worth of images, and often end up ticking "yes" to half of them at the end of the day. Even if they're not all amazing, most of them will still have some meaning to me because I took the time to consider the reason why I should make them in the first place.
Unless I am processing a photograph in full for printing, I care far less about pixel perfection, opting to forego lens corrections like vignetting and distortion as well as keeping luminance noise in my images. I leave it all in and even add grain by way of the VSCO profiles. To me, it retains the life of the moments by giving your eyes texture and depth the absorb while viewing the images.
My current colour processing profile is VSCO's Kodak Portra 160NC. It has very natural looking colour while still adding the tonal adjustments that takes it away from a feeling of "thinness" too often resulting from a standard digital camera profile. For black and white, I have returned to VSCO's Ilford HP5+ to restore the texture and "dense" toning that it applies to skin tones.
Throwing Away Dusty Old Hats
There's an interesting conundrum that rears its head when you head down a very specific path within your process. You could argue that I'm limiting myself these days, but I'd argue back that this is entirely the point. I don't have my studio portrait gear at home anymore. It has all migrated to work full time. I realised that it was just sitting there unused and taking up space in my lounge room. I suppose you could say I've somewhat retired myself doing lit portraits for the time being. There is only a faint longing for doing traditional "shoots", but I know that I don't have the motivation to spend the time setting them up and waiting for them to happen these days.
Without a constant flow of people to shoot, the frequency at which I was flexing my photographic muscles was dwindling. There were some periods pre-2013 when I hadn't created anything of substance for months at a time. Now I'm shooting every week and my "keeper" rate has also jumped up to two out of three images I make. They may not be professional, studio lit portraits like I used to create, but they're photographs I care about and choose to keep and view.
As I mentioned in a previous essay, my library of street photography, landscapes, portraits and personal moments are building themselves out of the product of simply living a life which caters to the creation of such photographs. I live my life and I document it, and both my external passions and photography itself support each other in this circular way.
I wouldn't give it up for anything, but I have to remind myself that I chose to do things this way, and that to forget where I came from would be a mistake. It's a confirmation bias that I've chosen to accept in full and embrace.