180222 Garbage - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

More of my garbage photography.

This is done with the same rules as my lightbulb photos – it has to be something that I'm about to throw out, photographed on a light table, and done when I'm feeling restless and want something convenient and simple. I probably won't post any more blog entries about it for a while, but my hope is to keep going and eventually make a small project out of the results.

After all these years I still can't say what kind of photographer I am.

I know some of the photography things that I'm not, such as anything involving photographing people, but it's been hard to pin it down as a positive value. I like "scapes" – land, city, water, sound – and small details, often minimalist or removed from context to allow different possibilities. I'm experimental but literal, prone to bouts of cleverness but rarely fanciful. That's hard to put on a business card even if I knew what it meant. But as an example, this photo was taken with green light from a flashlight that I've modified to take colour contrast filters, which I made for night photography. Yet changing the colour in post-production simply wouldn't have occurred to me. 

One kind of photographer than I know I am is a Product Photographer, even if it's not mostly what I do. 

This Instax film wrapper is reflective. I realized that each time I pressed the cable release I was automatically standing away from the table and tucking my free arm behind my back. That's to avoid catching a beige tint in the reflections – a reflex I internalized when photographing jewellery.* When taking photos at night, using the same tripod and cable release, I don't do this.

"There was a critique group in the city, but the pictures were terrible, like what was in 'Popular Photography' magazine. There was no particular intentionality, no real aesthetic intelligence, behind the photography. It was all about making pleasing pictures."

- Steven Shore, Uncommon Places

More garbage.

This is a quotation that I had written down and posted next to my desk many, many years ago. It's dirty and torn now, and it's on its way out, but I still remember the sentiment. It was an early encouragement to have something to say, and not worry too much if the camera club didn't reward me for it. These days my influences have changed a bit; I'm more likely to aspire to Kirk Varnedoe's reminder that the less there is in a picture the more important what remains becomes. Or Cage's quip, 'I have nothing to say, and have said it.'

How well I've succeeded at any of that is a subject beyond the current discussion.

But there's something more to the Shore quotation that I need to watch out for: the idea that somehow I've found a more clever solution than everyone else. I suppose that this feeling of special insight could have made me susceptible to conspiracy theories, but in my case mostly influences my purchasing decisions. It's why Four Thirds was my first SLR system, with its weather-sealing and exceptional lenses in front of weak sensors, and it's why my most recent purchase has been a tripod from a brand nobody has heard of and an Arca Swiss P0 "inverted" ballhead instead of one of the twenty-plus high quality conventional designs that are out there.

Not that the uncommon options are necessarily bad choices – sometimes they work out very well, other times they don't, just like all decisions. But the idea of glamorizing being an outcast, feeling like "they just don't get it", or that there's some moral virtue to making something that's unpopular is insidious. So while I can strive for aesthetic intelligence and intentionality, may I never feel that I can dismiss others as just making 'pretty pictures'.

Or that the common choice is somehow a bad one because only I know better.

Or think that the moon landing didn't happen, because where are the stars?

Because that's all garbage.

* By chance I also happened to be wearing a neutral grey short-sleeved shirt, which is pretty standard for me. When I was photographing jewellery I would always wear a grey long-sleeve shirt and a pair of black gloves to further reduce the chance of being caught in reflections. I would also use a long lens and shoot through a hole in a black card when needed. Shiny is pretty, but it can be a pest to photograph.

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