I went out shooting this morning with the temperature forecasted to rocket into the high twenties. Fahrenheit. I almost didn't go out, but images don't make themselves. Get out there.
From Richard Thompson's most excellent strip, Cul de Sac.
Every time I run out of things to photograph - or at least I think I have - I never ask anyone else. You seldom get what you want - or think you want.
One difficulty of living in the Wired World is trying to stay warm and still have functional ready access to all your touch-screen gizmos. A standard pair of warm gloves is as useful with an iPhone or iPad as a padlock is with a kitten. (Sorry, I don't know where that came from.)
Anyway, you need gloves that you can use with your portable devices, and that means gloves that have a way of transmitting your skin's conductivity to the said device's screen.
Here you go, sport. Swypegloves have electrically conductive fingerpads that let you type, text, swipe and carry on as though your little fingers were buck-naked. No, really.
So now you can text while you ice-skate, ring that bell for the Salvation Army or almost anything else that would have formerly frozen your digits off. Stuff someone's stocking with these. You'll be a popular Santa for sure.
Dan Winters is an example of how to do things right. His work encompasses portraiture, editorial, industrial and reportage. Never does he fall into his own trap of creating a signature style, but his work still is plainly his, and done at a level that most photographers will never come to close to achieving.
You may never have the pleasure of photography Sandra Bullock in Fiji, but if you can develop even a small part of Winters' ability to relate to his subjects, you will zoom past all of your contemporaries and become a force to be reckoned with as a photographer.
See his work here.
So what do you do when the weather goes into the dumpster? Sit around the house, wishing you were shooting? Or do you challenge yourself to create under less than ideal conditions? Grab a couple of plastic bags and get outside. You won't melt.
If you lived someplace with less-perfect weather than where you live now, what would you do? This bus queue in Glasgow is the perfect example. I stood on the steps of my hotel on Bath Street and found a slice of life worth noting. Parenthetically, a word about civility. I watched this queue for more than a half-hour. Buses came and went during rush hour, a couple of them were full. There was no pushing or shoving, no foul language, no crowding in line. Were they happy to be standing in a line in the rain? Probably not, but they realize that they aren't the center of the universe, and another bus will come in a few minutes.
Same with the weather. We walked the streets of Glasgow in the rain, from Queen Street Station to the Cathedral and the Necropolis. Eventually the rain moves on, and sometimes the sun comes out. If it doesn't, so much the better. Cloudy days are beautiful for photography - nature's softbox. make the best of it.
Irving Penn is one of the world's greatest photographers, and all you have to do to absorb some of his vision is to spend some time with Passage, A Work Record.
His photography is simple, elegant and understated. His portrait, still life and fashion work in Passage is far more impressive than much of today's manhandled, over-processed imagery.
I have owned this volume for many years, and when I run dry, there is always something there that rekindles my love of photography.
“We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the sign started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides -- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.
"No one sees the barn," he said finally.
A long silence followed.
"Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."
He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others. "We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies."
There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.
"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."
Another silence ensued. "They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said.”
― Don DeLillo, White Noise
Every photographer who has spent any time at all creating images out amongst the unwashed masses has experienced a version of this. The most common form is standing near something that you feel is image-worthy, maybe you have your camera on a tripod and are waiting for the light to come around, and someone approaches, and out of the blue, they pull out a camera or a phone and take a picture of what you're taking a picture of. Usually they get as close to your camera or you as they can. What they walk away with is an incomplete idea, a flawed notion of what you were doing there in the first place. They have an image to refer back to, but that image is really just a rough sketch, not a complete thought.
Another version is the casual observer:
"What are you taking pictures of?"
"Because it's interesting to me. I like the way it looks."
"It's just a barn."
Variations include the hobbyist that wants to know your exposure and what kind of camera you're using, the person who knows everything about everything and can tell you when the barn was built and you should have been here two weeks ago because there was an old car in front of the barn, but it got towed; and the paranoid observer who is just sure that your admiration of an old barn is a sure sign of an impending terrorist attack. This last character is extremely common near airports, rail terminals and power-generating facilities. Pity.
By the way, if you're ever rousted while you're setting up a photograph in a public place, this page is a useful resource. On it, there is a downloadable PDF of your basic rights and privileges as a photographer. I keep a copy in my camera bag at all times. The standard disclaimer applies - your rights are much the same as having right-of-way in a vehicle - you're free to proceed, but you still have to maintain a clear head if challenged. All the same, it's good to know what you should be able to do in public without harassment.
Get out and shoot.