(More) On Fallow Seasons

As is often the way with my writing here, an idea or title I start out with for a blog post ends up going off at a tangent, and I have a bonus piece I wasn’t really expecting.

This happened with the last post.

So this new one is an attempt to delve deeper into my original topic of Fallow Seasons, and especially what this means with photography.

In the past I’ve not really known a fallow season with my photography, having been churning our pictures readily since about 2005, starting with a camera phone.

My first phase of photography was discovering a kind of consistent voice and approach in terms of subject and composition.

This later evolved through trying out dozens of different cameras and lenses to find the gear I enjoyed most.

Once I tired of become a camera tester and wanted to lean more into being a photographer, I started purging my gear, and experimenting with an ongoing One Month One Camera project.

It’s only really in the last 9-12 months my output has significantly dropped off.

The strange thing with photography – and especially in comparison with my previous and first creative love, writing – is that there’s never really a shortage of material.

With writing you’re always starting with a blank page, then building something from nothing.

Yes of course I do like to keep notes and ideas and drafts for 35hunter posts (the same was true for poetry when that was my main creative outlet for years), so I’m rarely settling down to write with no starting place whatsoever.

But it still has to come out of me and my thinking, sooner or later, one way or another.

With the photography though, you don’t have to go far to find the raw clay to mould into new sculptures. You’re not creating something from nothing, you’re just finding and framing what’s already right there waiting.

I’ve found from experiments like One Room Fifty Photographs that I can find interesting and beautiful subjects to photography without even leaving the room – especially with a close focusing lens.

So a fallow season in photography I don’t think comes from a lack of material to photograph, at least not for me.

If I was a sports photographer and there were no sport events I could access, or a street photographer who thrived on bustling people, but the streets I loved were near empty, then perhaps a fallow season would be enforced.

I’m sure this must have been the case for many photographers over the last couple of years, but it’s not been a factor I can say has impacted me.

Perhaps this fallow period comes from just tiring of making the same kinds of images over and over.

For a long time the challenge I enjoyed was making equally impressive (to me) pictures, but with different kit.

Taking on something new and mastering it to the point of being able to make the photographs that pleased me most. The same kinds of pictures, but with the new perspective of a different lens and/or camera each time.

I don’t have this interest in particular any longer.

Film photography drifted out of the equation nearly five years ago for various reasons, and on the digital front I’ve used enough of a range of compacts and mirrorless and DSLRs to know what I like and settle on a handful of favourites.

So I’ve found the kind of photographs I like to make, and the equipment I like best in making those photographs. Beyond that I’m kind of just repeating the process.

In a way it’s come full circle, and the photographs I made 15 days ago aren’t that different from ones I was making 15 years ago.

As I also said in the last post, and have done many times before, the primary reason for going on photowalks has been the walking side, ahead of the photography.

Before I walked with a camera, I still loved walking, and have done in the recent months where I’ve rarely taken a camera with me, other than my ever present phone.

The origin of the idea of a fallow season in my memory goes back to farming, in no small part because my granddad and his son, my uncle, were farmers all their lives and we spent many hours around them growing up in Sussex fields.

We absorbed the basics of crop rotation, and that any single field didn’t have the same purpose and the same crops year in year out.

There were changes, and rests, the fallow seasons, where nothing was planted and the ground was allowed to restore itself ready to be richer again for growing a year or two down the line.

So perhaps this is what’s happening with my photography.

I’m not forcing anything, just taking it slow, having a break, to let whatever part of me it is that drives the desire to photograph regain and resummon its motivation. And see where that takes me.

As I ended with in the last post, I’ll repeat here, and that is just to say I’m not concerned about photographing less.

Photography is not my livelihood on a practical level, nor do I have a major artistic drive to make intensely original work that’s displayed in galleries worldwide.

It’s a lovely and valuable hobby, and one that is flexible enough and easy enough to pick up again at a moment’s notice, without the need for any equipment other than what I already have and know.

Something I’ve been putting off for a while on the photography front is a sort through of the cameras and lenses I have, and letting go of what I haven’t used in years and won’t again.

Lack of time may be the obvious excuse I’ve been using, but it’s not the real reason.

I think it’s more that internal battle between knowing there’s probably a few hundred pounds worth of stuff I want to get rid of, making it valuable enough to not want to get nothing for it, but at the same time not wanting all the hassle of listing and selling and packaging and so on.

I think I should just accept the concept of sunk costs for this equipment, and give it away en masse to a charity shop that can list it online and get themselves a decent amount back.

Maybe that clearing out of the excess and letting what remains breathe again, will aid the fallow season and a more enthusiastic return in the weeks and months to come.

How about you? What does a fallow season mean to you, and when did you last experience one?

As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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7 thoughts on “(More) On Fallow Seasons”

  1. I also experience many cycles in which I encounter a new idea or develop a new concept, then spend a lot of time working out how it could exist in the world. Once I figure out a technique and an execution I often lose interest in making any more. It is the discovery and the exploration that appeal to me, not the production of the thing. Photography has been somewhat similar, though I am still pleasantly surprised and inspired by what new things I can see through the lens that I didn’t quite notice before. Still, photography for me recently has been more a framework for writing about ideas, than the practice of actually taking my camera out. I am excited to get out and make photos once more, but like you I am not feeling a burning desire, and am using the practice to help me round out ideas on the page.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Andy. I agree about the discovery and exploration. I think we get this once overall with photography, when we’re complete beginners, and discover certain core aspects for the first time, for example that using a wide aperture results in a shallow depth of field.

      Once we discover or learn (or are shown) this, the major discovery(ies) is over.

      Then comes in a second layer of discovery(ies). That is how to achieve that first level of learning, with a variety of equipment.

      And for me I was at this second layer for years, just using different cameras to essentially make very similar pictures.

      The joy was in using a variety of cameras and lenses and finding their unique pros and cons, more than discovering anything completely new in photography as a whole.

      So the way forward for me is either get some new gear (or dust off something I have not used in a long time, and/or barely at all) and go round and round at that second level again. Or just accept I’ve done that phase and enjoy perhaps far less frequent trips with the core cameras I have and love.

  2. I’ve had downs in photography and I posted about them here before…
    But what this made me think about, is the concept of an artistic outlet… some of us just have to have it. Before I was married, playing, recording and listening to music took the most of my free time… I was a musician through and through. I had no idea that this would provoke deep jealousy in my wife and, to make a long story short, I basically gave up on music to find peace in my marriage. The lack of an artistic outlet drove me into a deep depression and I had no idea who I was anymore. Then came photography and it was an artistic outlet again, and I haven’t felt depressed since. Of course at one point my wife started to hate me giving attention to a camera as well, instead of a guitar, but I’ve been managing to handle things the best I can. And I’ve also been able to get a bit into music again, nothing like before, but at least it’s a bit of an outlet. I’ve been doing some writing as well.
    So having those artistic outlets back in my life, photography doesn’t have quite the same urgency that it had before, though it’s still something I enjoy a lot.
    So a fallow season in one outlet might happen because there’s been other outlets that are absorbing your artistic needs. Or perhaps there’s reduced need for such an outlet at the moment, life gets busy especially when a new child comes along…

    1. Very interesting take on it Chris. I must say as a fellow creative person, anyone who tried to suppress or discourage that fundamental part of my personality would not be someone I’d want around me. I’m glad you have been able to find new creative outlets after the (in my eyes) huge compromises you seem to have made.

      I have been fortunate that my previous longest relationship of near 10 years, my partner was very creative too and was super supportive of me writing, painting, making music, gardening, cooking, whatever I tried, and we did quite a lot of it together. My wife now (we’ve been together 12 years) is not as creative in the directly artistic sense, but has never said anything about me writing or making photographs, she knows they’re fundamentally important to me and my general well being.

      I think parenting requires a huge amount of creativity, not just directly as in making art with the kids, but in constantly figuring out how to parent in the best way and that’s most supportive (and least damaging!) to the children.

  3. I’m exposing more 135 film rolls, but I’m in a fallow patch with my digital photography. It’s January in New Jersey. It’s cold (1°C tonight). It’s snowing. Maybe I’ll get out tomorrow and push a shutter button. Maybe.

    1. We’ve had a run of beautiful frosty mornings here, and I keep thinking I should get out and take a few photos in the fields behind us, but the optimum time when the sun is just coming up, but it’s not warm enough to have melted anything is just right in the middle of the busiest time getting everyone ready in the morning so it hasn’t happened. Maybe at the weekend. Last year we had this incredible morning where it had rained heavily the night before, then the temperature plummeted overnight, and in the morning trees were laden with icicles. A bit like in that film The Ice Storm. It was absolutely magical, and I’ve only seen it that pretty a handful of times in my life. I regret not heading out with a camera that day – but at least we walked out in it and enjoyed the experience directly.

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