Our world is saturated with images. We are drowning under thousands upon millions of photographs. Everybody with an iPhone is suddenly a professional photographer. Anyone with an Instagram account can instantly turn their snapshots into snapshots masquerading as fine art.
It's not that I begrudge anyone their photographic passions or pretensions. But over the years, I’ve devoted myself to doing things the hard way.
Why go on a guided African safari when you can buy a busted-up Land Cruiser and get yourself thoroughly stuck and lost in the Serengeti? What better way to see the wilds of the arctic than from your very own leaky zodiac? Why take a cruise ship to Antarctica when there’s a ill-tempered drunkard in a sailboat who’ll overcharge you, shower you with abuse and leave you hungry and cold on the icy shore?
Is it because I’m cheap, stubborn and often disagreeable?
Well…um…yes. But it’s also a great way to see things differently.
As much as I might love my Hipstamatic snapshots, I find it a whole more fun and challenging to drag out an old film camera, dig some outdated film stock out of the freezer, put on a balky, blurry lens and try to make something of my own.
Last November, I helped lead a four-week small sailboat expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula. Inspired by Dave Burnett‘s work, I spent the weeks before my departure obsessively scanning ebay and paying inflated prices for a World War II vintage Aero Ektar lens and an even older 4×5 camera. I’m pretty sure the last time someone shot Antarctica with a Speed Graphic was sometime around the Shackleton expedition.
During the trip, I shot tens of thousands of digital images as I wallowed in penguin shit, waded in freezing water, crawled around in the snow and basically had the time of my life. But when I came home, the pictures I wanted to see more than any others were those 99 4×5 sheets of expired Fujicolor 160 color negative film.
In my quarter century of photography, I’ve had neither the patience nor technical skill for large format work. But somehow in our brave new attention-deficit world, it seems the perfect antidote to the sameness that permeates so much of the work I see and that I create.
Every time I head out to shoot, I remind myself to try something new. To see different.