Monday, 15 October 2012

A beginning and an end (or maybe not)

Action shot of a polo match
In the dark, uncivilized and bleak days before the advent of digital photography, I bought myself a Minolta SLR camera (don’t remember the model, don’t think I really paid that much attention) and a couple of lenses with the firm intention of learning how to create hard-hitting edgy photographs.  It was highly ambitious considering that I had absolutely no idea of what I was doing.

If ignorance truly is bliss, then I must have been the happiest of all want to be photographers.  Actually, I must have been living in Eden before Adam and Eve went and spoilt it for everyone.

The only thing on the camera that I thought I understood was the button I had to push to take an exposure (not that I knew what an exposure was, to me it was just press the button, magic happens and someone’s soul is captured on a thin strip of something or the other made of chemicals).  At least that was the only thing on the camera I was really interested in.
Reformation wall in Geneva
F-numbers were a complete mystery to me.  Luckily I can’t remember what I thought they were for, or else I would probably have to jump off a bridge just to preserve what tiny iota of dignity that may be spared me.  But I do know that I had absolutely no idea what aperture and field of depth were, so it is highly unlikely that I was anywhere close to being right about the explanation for their presence.

I happily bought a couple of rolls of Ilford ISO 400 film.  And if there was any rhyme or reason as to that acquisition, it was definitely not because of a deep understanding of photography or of film.  I think I must have heard someone mention, sometime, that Ilford was great film and that the higher the ISO the faster the film.  What exactly was meant by a fast film?  I had no idea.  Worse still, I had no inclination to find out either.

Today, I would like to be gracious and forgive myself for being such a glorious idiot and just allocate the blame for my ignorance on my impetuous youth.

It took me just a little over a week to finish off those two rolls of film.  When I got back the prints, the results were on par with a migrating goose laying an egg in mid-flight.  As I already said, I had absolutely no clue about what went into a good photograph, but I knew a huge big failure when I saw it.

For some time after that I ridiculously persisted in the belief that the camera I had invested in was a dud, or that I needed a stronger pair of spectacles. 

After a while, the realization that photography may not merely be a matter of pointing the camera at something and pressing a button began to persistently hammer itself onto my consciousness.  It became increasingly hard to ignore the relentless misgiving that photography might actually entail some hard work.

And so I embarked on a never-ending journey of learning about photography.  F-Stops, depth-of-field, shutter speed, ISO, front lighting, back lighting, rule of thirds, leading lines…  I devoured everything.  Of course, every single source of my edification wagged a proverbial finger at me and informed me that the only way to learn was to do.  And so I did.

Kids building an igloo (snow house)I spent an absolute fortune on film, and snapped away at every opportunity I got.  And yet, my results did not improve.   It was almost if I was learning nothing.  I was perplexed as to why this machine on which I had lavished such care remained aloof and refused to return my love.  I pictured the employees at the development lab crawling on their pristine floors clutching at their sides as they desperately tried to hold them together to prevent their guts spilling out from laughing so hard.  Paranoid? Me?  Nah, just because I think everyone is mocking me doesn’t mean they’re not.

One day, someone asked me the exposure settings I had used for a particular photograph.  I was at a complete loss as to what to reply.  I couldn’t even remember Dr Alzheimer’s first name (it is Alois by the way), how the hell was I supposed to remember the f-stop and shutter speed I had dialled in for a picture taken God knows when.

So in addition to lugging around my unresponsive camera and lenses, I started carrying around a notebook to note down the settings for every exposure I made.  That lasted for about 20 minutes.  After five shots my discipline crumbled, the note book fell into a river.  I watched it carried away on some very fast moving currents from which, much to my relief, it was never recovered.

I finally ended the development laboratory’s hilarity and my personal misery by selling off the camera and lenses to a second hand store, thus relegating photography to the huge rubbish heap of attempted and unsuccessful personal endeavours.

Sunset on lake Geneva 1I’ll leave you here for now, much like in a television series, where the hero is left hanging from a cliff in a, well, cliff hanger ending, I suppose.  But we all know he’ll manage to overcome his predicament and the suspense is nothing but a feeble bluff. For if he did not, what inane excuse for entertainment would we be force fed next week?  And so till next time my friends...

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