Self-Study

I’ve recently been drawn to creating self-portraits. I’m blessed with a small garage studio that has both east and south-facing windows, so there are ample opportunities to play with different combinations of natural light.

This morning I got up a little earlier, made breakfast, showered, and headed downstairs. There was a bit of cloud cover, and I ended up with some funky renaissance-esque lighting.

All shots were composed on a Pentax K50 with a 50mm lens. Shot at 1 second, ISO 400, and varying between f11 and f16.

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Golden Hour

The weather worked in our favour today. We had a bright afternoon and an evening with soft pockets of quick-passing cloud. David and I headed out to the northern part of the city to take advantage of the good light. I suggested we go to a pedestrian bridge that crosses over the city’s internal highway—a bridge I’ve driven under hundreds of times but have never gone out of my way to find. There we could get up high enough and work with the light uninterrupted.

That silhouette; that bokeh!

That silhouette; that bokeh!

We only had about half an hour of working light, so we worked quickly. My wide angle lens wasn’t cooperating with my camera, so I did my best within the parameters of my 50mm. It’s such a simple, standard focal length, and probably my favourite.

“Am I smizing?”

“Am I smizing?”

I don’t do well giving direction from behind the camera—it’s something that I agree needs work, but I’m also curious as to how things play out naturally. If I intervene too much the shots tend to get too composed and lose their spontaneity. I’m more comfortable as a willful observer. I’m often too preoccupied trying to control the light, and then some of the best shots happen by accident when I’m not paying full attention.

The money shot.

The money shot.

I find it difficult to photograph places I know well. It’s always exciting visiting somewhere new and discovering its personality, how the lines converge and interact. It’s paramount to breathing new air.

Playful shadow.

Playful shadow.

We had used the best of the light, so we headed back to the car. On our way down there was a bush just off the path that had the sun playing in its branches. It provided us with our final photograph.

Bokeh on demand.

Bokeh on demand.

We piled into the car and headed home, settling down in front of the TV with dinner. Another quiet evening slow in its vernation.

Interlude

Light is temperamental in the temple of creation. I often feel as if I am fumbling, half-blind, toward a common uncertainty, searching for fire and finding only traces of smoke, trying to align a frayed thread with the eye of a rotating needle. I call this the failing attempt: it is a mistrust of the moment. Doubt is often my crippling, omnipresent adversary.

I was recently watching an interview of Sally Mann conducted sometime before A Thousand Crossings. When prompted to speak on doubt in relation to her work, she references the following from Henry James’ The Middle Years, saying that she adheres to it like a mantra:

We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

I carried this with me in the following weeks. Is the muse fickle, or had I been denying myself foresight? I imagined it as a vein of flight: leaping in the face of self-imposed adversity, launching yourself beyond the arc of fear, no haven below.

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I’m coming to understand persistence as a collaboration between the act and doubt. It’s a negotiation fought on the hard earth under stark sunlight, a hint of cloud above, a propeller pushing loosely forward.