photography

Go Outside and Play

Last summer, at our former house, we noticed something more and more: of all our neighbors, we were the only ones who spent any measurable amount of time outside.

Whether for grilling, or for playing on the swing set, or going for a simple walk around the block, our family was largely alone. We didn’t see some neighbors for weeks. Others only went outside to mow the lawn, or get in their car and leave. My wife and I would sit in the backyard, after putting the kids to bed, just to read and drink and watch the birds. Again: all alone, all by ourselves.

Granted, we lived in a rural neighborhood, and most country folks stick to themselves. But we couldn’t shake a thought: how weird that other people in our neighborhood weren’t enjoying the lovely Michigan summer. So far, it’s been the same story at our new house.

Maybe a lot has changed since I was a kid (“Go outside and play!” my mother would shout, and we did – all day long). There are a lot of new time suck options, from Netflix to Facebook, even in rural areas. Given that more people (especially children) are spending less time outside, my values probably differ from my nation’s.

On the other hand, it’s easy to fall into nature worship, and praise fresh air so much that you become annoying. I’ll admit that not everyone craves Thoreau’s “tonic of wilderness” like I do. We sent our son to a nature center for preschool, and he spent most of his school day outdoors in the woods. That’s not for everyone.

But, I do think that if you have a yard, you should spend time in it. If you live on a road, you should walk up and down it from time to time.

And if you’re a photographer, getting outside should be a part of your practice. Take your camera, grab your kids or pet, and go outside to see what the season has accomplished.

(Coincidentally, a recent Roderick On the Line podcast episode had a discussion about this subject, specifically about people playing sports outside. Good listen.)


Using Your Family As Photo Subjects

What Do You Dream About?

A generous On Taking Pictures listener gifted me a copy of Sally Mann’s Immediate Family for our gift exchange during the holidays, and it has me thinking about family photos. As a parent, family photography came naturally. Is there a better way to capture your kids growing up?

Unless you’re a parent, a lot of this won’t be clear. But for those parents out there, you instinctively know how important family photography is.

In her memoir, Hold Still (which is a great read, by the way – give me a memoir over an autobiography any day) Mann tells her photography students:

Photograph what is important to you, what is closest to you, photograph the great events of your life, and let your photography live with your reality.

“Your reality” could include dreams, or emotions, or flowers by a big window. For parents, “what is closest” is often our children, especially at first. And what is photography if not to capture something before its gone?

Photographing the family has a few side benefits. For one, it’s just good practice. Think about shooting something every day, week after week. and then add in that you have a readily-available subject who more or less cooperates. Want to try out a new technique? Want to test a new piece of gear? Need to sketch out an idea? “C’mere, kiddo. Stand here.”

Second, while I love a good snapshot, I love making art with my family even more. I put feelings into the photos I make of my family, and that lends them a greater weight. Maybe they don’t mean anything to the casual observer. And maybe the kids, themselves, will look back and wonder why I made such a fuss. But with my family photos, I’m the audience (okay, maybe the grandparents, too).

Can I show someone that I love them by taking their photo? I believe so. That’s the ultimate reason I photograph my family. All you need is love, as John Lennon sang. It’s the ultimate personal project.

So now, I look for examples of good family photos, a genre I would never had been interested if it weren’t for exploring image making with my own kids. If I get the same sense of fondness and artistic expression – artists living with their reality, as Mann says – then the photographer has succeeded.


This Other Hunger

Red Reflections

Frank Chimero, in “Back to the Cave“:

Making things is putting the world in your mouth.

I make things for the same reasons babies put things in their mouths: to better understand the world, to sooth ourselves, and learn what to say.

Agreed. Whether it’s a new job or a new house, I use photography as a way to explore and absorb new surroundings and situations. This makes going anywhere new a thrill, because I bring along my camera and chew the hell out of the place.

(via Craig Mod)


Easter Sunday

Maybe it’s the colors, or maybe because it’s Spring, but Easter is always one of my favorite holidays to shoot.

We had a good (and busy) one this year, full of Nintendo gear and jelly beans. And the weather was fantastic.

Birth. Rebirth. The world waking up. The birds chirping. Our collective sweet tooth, satisfied.


Getting Some Fresh Air

Back on New Year’s Day, I came down with something terrible: fever, chills, aches, and an all-encompassing drowsiness. It was so bad I had to cancel holidays plans with my family.

By day three, I was going stir-crazy, so the boy and I headed outside during an unseasonably warm January day to get some fresh air. It had to help, even a little, to take a walk around the neighborhood.

We walked our usual path down by the lake, and through the neighborhood trails – to the giant pile of concrete rubble that sits on the farm property just outside the residential zone.

The walk didn’t end up helping all that much, long-term, but to my feverish head and aching lungs, breathing that foggy Midwestern air provided a much-needed break.


Change of Pace

Ann Arbor, MI

John Carey at 50 Foot Shadows, after his X-Pro broke, picked up a classic Canon 5D after a long absence.

Funny thing happened in that, I found myself inspired by the change of pace. The original 5D has such a beautiful sensor, it’s like changing film. While I miss flexibility in ISO and dynamic range the photos I get from the 5D are moody, colorful, contrasty, they really have a life of their own, in fact, as some of you already know, the camera defined my style 10+ years ago when I started to shoot with it.

Carey took a look back to when he first put down his 5D. His feeling then matches my own now: “This is a still photo camera. There is no shame in that.”

No shame, indeed. In fact, I see it as a point of pride. When you want to take pictures, you pick up a picture-taking machine.


Old Michigan Avenue

US-12

Fun look back at the history of US-12 at Concentrate Ann Arbor:

Michigan Avenue has been recognized for its significance as a Historic Heritage Route. Given the fact that it’s persisted so long and been so essential to the state, it seems more than fitting to refer to this road, which spans the entire east-west length of the state, as Michigan Avenue.

US-12 has fed a life-long fascination for me, and is becoming a long-term photography project. It’s a road, and an area, rich with history.

Parts two and three are up, too.

 


New Camera Strap

Gordy Camera Strap

Maybe it’s waking up out of winter, or maybe it’s just a little more sunshine affecting my brain – but I recently splurged on some photography gear.

This year, to kick off my project, I treated myself to a new camera strap from Gordy’s. It’s not going to make my photos better, and it’s not one of those $100 artisan leather products that get all the reviews. It’s a simple leather strap that holds my Canonet around my neck. And it’s dark brown, with red and burgundy accents.

It’s half fashion, half pragmatism. My old strap was a simple nylon affair, thin and unassuming. It did the job, sure, but not well, and it wouldn’t win any beauty contests. With this new leather strap, at least I feel like human beings made it with attention and care.

I also have this thing where all my camera straps need to be brown. Whatever.

Gordy’s does this nice thing where they feature photographers’ cameras on their photo gallery. A nice way to show off gear, and their product. They have a great Instagram account, too.