Practice, a noun

Routine shooting for long-term happiness

Sitting over lunch. Images and thoughts bouncing between us, Shiela and I discussed what we had just experienced. The scene is an art gallery café and the images were, mostly, those of Walker Evans.

The idea of “practice” emerges from the conversation. It got me thinking. Still trying to clarify, but there is an interesting kernel there.

Reviewing the work of someone like Evans, makes me realize, again, how much time and effort goes into a successful practice. In this case, I’m measuring success in many ways, least of which is money. One of his notable successes was that he made photos on his own terms, most of the time. Of course he made commercial photos, which aren’t displayed next to his “art” photography, but were necessary for him to continue his full photography practice.

Pondering Evans’ photography got me thinking about my own image-making practice. I find it helpful to periodically think about what, why and how I am making photos. Of course, it’s easier to evaluate commercial work, as client satisfaction goes a long way in determining success. On a personal level, refining my photography practice is an ongoing endeavour. However, determining success with personal work is a messier process that sometimes feels too slippery to grasp.

One of the aspects of this practice is actually practising seeing and capturing images. I find that by hitting the streets (or a ferry or an art gallery), camera in hand, helps me practise seeing images. It is the main reason that I have my X-Pro2 w/XF23mm Fujicron lens with me nearly all the time. Given the right opportunity (light, content, etc.), I am equipped to make an image. This also sharpens my skills for commercial work. I would argue that shooting in my everyday, observational documentary style is crucial to any success I might experience commercially.

Aside from being the result of these outings, do these images have any other value? On first inspection, not much. Some are posted here or to social media. Fewer still are published at the end of the year in something like New Observational Documentation. An even smaller number are printed and hung on a wall somewhere.

So why make them? Well, I actually do think that they have value. They are the proof of my ongoing practice. Capturing them keeps me looking for and, hopefully, seeing good images. From these images I continue to learn what works and, very often, what doesn’t.

This idea that photography is a lifelong practice helps me continue to carry my camera, take it out and to make images. Even if the light is poor or there isn’t anything “interesting” to shoot. I still want to make images. Very few of the resulting images might be ”keepers,” however the process of looking, seeing, capturing and editing, all contribute to the evolution of that practice.

I suspect that my experience is like many other photographers in that we want to make photos for the sake of making images, to enrich our practice, and that is reason enough to pick up a camera. Happy shooting and wishing you good light.

All images captured with a Fujifilm X-Pro2 fronted with the ”Fujicron” XF23mm lens, except for “ferry passenger, doing crossword,” which was captured with an adapted Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens.

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