When I began this blog some 18 months ago, I had the intention of sharing both photography and writing.
Not just writing reviews about cameras and lenses, but writing that was interesting and thought provoking within itself, regardless of the surrounding images on the page.
I feel I’ve drifted somewhat from that original aim.
So I plan to become more focused in the writing part of 35hunter. Starting now.
A little while back I talked about five reasons I love shooting film and found that using digital cameras with the same lenses offers much of the same appeal.
The top two reasons were irrelevant to the film or digital format and were at a much deeper level – the freedom and the immersive experience.
So I got to thinking about why these two in particular were – and still are – so important to me.
This also ties in with how I’ve tried to narrow my collection of photography kit.
When I started a Flickr album about five years back to share photos of the cameras I’ve had and used, I remember writing about how my collection would be limited to a dozen cameras and if a new one came in another would have to go out.
The peak of my “failure” in this end came in early 2016 (maybe not coincidentally very soon after starting 35hunter), where I had over 50 cameras, nearly half of which I’d not even run a roll of film through.
It just makes me anxious – the antithesis of the feelings I seek when I’m out in nature with a camera. (This extends to virtually all of my life – I probably had more cameras at that point than items of clothing.)
Simplifying the equipment (and the quantity of it) then is of significant importance to me.
And in truth, I would estimate that of the last 2000 photographs I’ve shot in recent weeks, about 1900 have been either with my Pentax K10D or Samsung GX-1S with vintage lenses, usually Takumars.
For better or for worse, shooting film has almost disappeared as part of this simplification too, for now.
Returning to the other aspect of narrowing focus – to heighten that freedom and immersion I seek.
Why are these important?
Because, as greatly blessed as my life is, I still just need time away from everything. Back amongst the trees, or in a meadow, or a tranquil rural churchyard.
As I’ve grown older (four decades in I’m still waiting for the day I think I can legitimately call myself a “grown up”!), I’ve realised what makes me stressed and anxious in the day to day.
Noise, mess, rushing.
Escaping with a camera gets me away from all of these things.
But it also does something more – something that without a camera I might not be able to be so conscious about and aware of.
Again it’s down to narrowing focus.
I could walk into a summer meadow and see a dozen beautiful flowers in touching distance and not know where to look first. So I might instead just walk through not seeing any of them. Not properly up close appreciating them.
But when I have a camera in my hands, I’m constantly seeking out tiny rectangular frames that make me feel joy and awe.
Looking at petals a few centimetres away through a viewfinder – that by definition blocks out everything else that isn’t within its four straight edges – heightens my senses and raises my appreciation of what’s right there in front of me.
Because it’s the only thing in front of me, the only thing in the whole world, at that precise moment.
This value of the viewfinder is also the reason my otherwise amazing Sony NEX has been gathering dust on a shelf since I got the two Pentax K DSLRs. I can’t get that immersion and appreciation when I’m holding a device at arms length squinting at a screen.
I’m reminded of a quote from a strange and interesting film, worth watching (well it was for me) for the performance of probably my favourite American actress, Meryl Streep. In Adaptation, Streep’s character is a journalist writing a story on a guy who’s obsessed with orchids.
In wondering why he’s so obsessed she ponders – “The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility”.
I’ve loved this idea from the moment I heard it, and realise it’s a mantra for how and why I photograph, why I need that narrow focus.
Looking through the viewfinder of a camera, focusing the lens and adjusting the aperture gives me such a thrill.
Though the equipment has evolved in the last few years, the process and the final image are much the same. This shot taken from six years ago could have been taken yesterday.
And if I didn’t practice this approach regularly, I wouldn’t see the detail and the beauty right under my nose.
More crucially, maybe without this kind of narrow focus, I just wouldn’t be able to function day to day at all, there would be just too much chaos and mess and racing and noise, too much world to try to wrap my brain around.
Narrowing focus then, camera in hand, for me, is utterly essential.
How about you?
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