161214 PBWA - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

By necessity I've been spending some time looking back through my photographic archives, and noticed a fundamental change in my photography over the past couple of years.

I'm a lot more sociable than I used to be.

The photographer Brooks Jensen, who is also the editor of Lenswork magazine, occasionally talks about PBWA, 'Photography By Wandering Around'. This is how I started, with a camera and curiosity, but except for camera club outings it was mostly solitary. I'd see things, take photos of them, and create piles of images that were unrelated to each other except for the fact that I took them all. There weren't themes so much as interests.

After a while I started to work in projects, and that's still mostly how I think photographically. Have an idea – or stumble across one, to be honest – and pursue it until there was some cohesive body of work, finish it off, and then move on. In between those periods of ideas I'd keep taking photos, but not of anything in particular. 

Those periods of down time, when I'm "not working on" something, extend. And I continue to live my life, with increasing success, and bring a camera along most of the time. Most of my friends also have cameras, so when we get together it will often be somewhere photogenic, even if we're just out for a walk. Photography by wandering around.

A couple of months ago I was looking through my favourite / better photos from the past couple of years, looking for ones to print, and realized that I was with someone else when I took almost all of them. About 90%, give or take. This came as something of a shock, both because I'm essentially an introvert and because I wasn't really expecting to be Doing Serious Work while I'm out with friends, and it turns out I was doing quite a bit of both.

PBWA, and being out photographing with friends and/or for workshops, does tend to produce the piles of disconnected photos rather than a body of work. That's fine, of course, and themes can and do emerge from that as well. But the funny thing is that my longest-running series of projects, all from photos taken at car shows, are both inherently PBWA and have aways been done when I've been with friends and/or family. I've been looking forward to the next one for months already. Other ongoing themes and interests also echo back to previous PBWA and social connections, especially when I want to show someone who's away what things look like now, or what might have changed since the last time.

Apparently I'm a more sociable person than I thought I was. This is requiring some adjustment. But clearly it's time to thoroughly embrace, once again, photography by wandering around.


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