Yesterday I was out in the city, I don’t normally have a lot of free time during the semester and the summer break is a good time to go out with my camera and see what I can see. Normally if I am doing a project I have a set idea in mind. There is an on-going project called “Shrooms and Bugs” that I am working on, these pictures are only taken in the autumn when it is mushroom picking season. For this project I know the type of images I am looking for, different mushrooms and plants as well as the tiny insects and bugs that live in the environment. On days like today I just like to go for a walk look.
I was walking down Kosciuszki street heading towards Plac Wolnosci, where I was planning a 360 panoramic (this will need to be attempted on another day as there was some people working on the square and I didn’t plan or want them in the shot.), as I was walking something caught my eye. I stopped and turned, I was not amazed but I was interested. There was a big closed double door, which is used for car access. The door was closed and padlocked with the several layers of paint peeling off it. Now in my city this is not unusual although it is becoming more unusual. I live in a post-industrial city in the middle of Poland and a lot of the buildings in the centre of the city are abandoned, condemned or not well looked after. In the door was, what I could only assume was, a peep hole and looking through it you could see a beautifully carved ceiling of a passageway which leads to a courtyard.
I quickly took out my camera and tried several different compositions trying to use the hole as a frame in the foreground and focus more on what was through the peephole. My tripod would not give me what I needed and after several minutes I decided I would poke my lens through and take the picture.
Several people walked by and said nothing ignoring me. Yet a man came up to me and asked, “Excuse me, what are you doing?”
I replied the obvious “Taking a picture.”
In turn he looked through the peep hole and then said “I can’t see what of!” and walked away.
I had a lot fun taking my picture and then some more of the door.
This man’s parting remark stuck with me, “I can’t see what of! “ And I started thinking of another question.
Why do I take photographs?
This question for me is a difficult one because I take photographs for different reasons; one is pleasure. I take great pleasure in developing pictures be it digital or film, looking at the end result and being amazed at what I did. Another reason is to show off, we all like to be praised. Finally I take photographs to show or describe something an idea a story or my mood. It can also be just to document. I am usually called on as the family photographer but now living so far from parents this has fallen to my father. On this occasion I took the picture for another reason, my own intrigue.
For me a photographer wants to ask questions; “why is the door closed?”, “what is this hole?”, “what is behind the door?” “Where does it lead?” and hopefully in taking the picture I will answer the question or it will prompt somebody to answer it.
When living in the north of England I knew the city I lived in was once a major train hub. I went for treks and found old railways lines. Questions started coming and soon I spent nearly two years walking around photographing anything that had a connection to the railways and the city. I discovered why there was a decline and closure of the stations, tracks and sidings in the city. Through this project several things were ticked off on my reasons for taking photographs. I had a lot of fun taking and editing/developing the photographs, I loved people’s reactions to them, they did reflect my mood and the told the story of this city’s forgotten grandeur.
A photographer may want to record a moment in history be it; a party, a terrorist attack, a religious event or to freeze that moment which will never be replicated again. A photographer does not have the luxury of a film director to have another go once the moment has passed. A photographer is torn in two when making snap decisions, do I start here while the light is good or here and then come back because the light maybe better. It is an instinct like making the perfect shot during a hunt, to be patient but not wait too long.
Sometimes I make bad decisions.
There may also be other reasons to take pictures.
Before the digital age people took pictures more selectively because of the cost of taking pictures and then developing them. They took pictures and then looked at them selected which ones they liked placed them in a picture album or framed them. The others maybe were placed in a box or back in the envelope only to be discovered again and memories to be spontaneously relived. People took pictures to remember to document and to share. Now in the digital age that still happens but instead posting them on Facebook and saving the discarded images in folders, files are deleted or lost. The same reason for taking them is there to remember to document and to share.
A photographer I would naturally expect not throw away those bad or unwanted pictures, instead keeping them, maybe later down the line he can look again and see something he did not see before.
This is where the differences and similarities between me the photographer and the Man who asked me the question.
The question all this starts to beg is, “What makes a photographer?” a question I am still unsure of what the answer is.
I have walked down the street many times pass the door. I had never once thought of saying wait I must stop look at this door. Why? The door and the building are the background of our busy lives, we see and continue. I stopped not because there was a friend or family member there or because it is a fascinating door, but because the questions have started to be asked.
What is it?