The X100 Magic - Part II

Sorry for the lack of activity around here. Trying to finish the next lighting field guide as well as doing a few things to keep the lights on. I hate when that interrupts things I feel like doing at the moment.

I wanted to wrap up the week relaying a short but illuminating (for me) conversation I had on twitter earlier this week. Specifically a conversation regarding a personal project I referred to in my last post on the magic of the Fuji X100.

I shot the image at the top about a month ago along with a ton of other images in that series. It was a dry run - a very casual dry run of something sparked by my more serious exploration of the X100 over the last two months or so. I didn't spend much serious time shooting the two hundred or so images in the series. Just my normal wake up and get moving time I usually spend chit chatting, having nine cups of coffee, etc. I am seriously useless until about noon on most days. I like lazy mornings rather than rushed mornings until something clicks in my head that says "okay - not morning any more".

After some serious time exploring the X100, it's imaging characteristics, the best way to use it in a given set of circumstances, getting to know the OVF frame lines, the lens, etc, etc. I finally felt comfortable actually pointing it at subjects with confidence. I have this quirk where I must be so familiar with a camera that it disappears into my subconscious when I actually use it on anything but StupidCrap™. This was the first time I did that for any length of time longer than 15 or 20 minutes with specific intent. I would not have had that specific intent if I didn't feel completely at home with the device - just they way my head's wired.

This was a very important break through for me. Not a technical break through a concept break through for a personal project that was formulated way way back in 2005. Since that time I have put more thought and more time into it than any other commercial photographic endeavor I have ever done. I have shot hundreds and hundreds of images using dozens of various approaches, materials, formats, cameras, etc. None of it "worked". It worked technically. I made exactly the images that I set out to make every single time. They didn't work as a whole. They didn't come anywhere near communicating what I was trying to communicate. How could that happen? I would come up with an idea, a plan, set it all up, execute it flawlessly and be very disappointed with it every single time. Not disappointed the day I made the image - after that when I looked at it with some distance and perspective of the art I was trying to produce rather than a project manager with a set of requirements. Hence the re-re-re-re-re-invention of this project over quite a few years.

Since this little dry run I have shot a few sessions with a completely fresh approach and viewpoint on this project. I have let them settle a few weeks. I have finally figured out the issue. The problem I had was me. Every single time I made carefully constructed images that didn't work I would double down on my carefully constructed approach. I kept dumping more of what I was doing into the approach when what I needed was a whole lot less, actually none.

I was in the way. My camera was in the way - actually all the gear was in the way of what I was trying to accomplish with this project. The project is something I must do. I know this otherwise I would not have bothered thinking about it for years. The problem is I broke it down into little mini projects without thinking about it holistically and every time I did that I do my normal thing and go into execution mode. I make exactly what I want down to the last detail. Too bad that's fantastic for production but not to healthy for art. I am not a big fan of serendipity on technical things unless I am in "learning mode". The problem is that I obliterated two important aspects critical to this particular project by eliminating variables.

The thing to be obliterated was the other human participants that were my subject. Yea, yea, yea everything is a collaboration. That's happy nice talk because the truth is that statement is rife with unspoken qualifiers. It's more accurate to say every photograph is a collaboration to a degree. The amount of collaboration is what you let it be. It varies from the subject doing exactly what you want them to do to not telling them anything to do. I was way too heavy on the former with none of the latter.

The second thing I obliterated was the premise of the project in the first place. The point of the project is questions. I was attempting to provide answers when the truth is I don't have a single answer. Maybe there isn't one. The interesting part is the questions in the first place and that was not being communicated at all. That was the complete and utter failure on my part. Leaving the questions - the very premise of the project in the first place - completely out of the images.

So where does the X100 fit into all this? Good question. Obliquely but critically. Once I started treating it seriously I noticed a few things about how I tended to use it and took a long hard look at why I tended to use it the way that I did. Part of the reason was it's 35mm focal length that I had no option to alter. Part of it was the complete silence in the way it operates. Part of it was that tiny little bit of optical viewfinder looseness in terms of the frame line precision. The size, form factor, imaging qualities at various apertures begged to be used a certain way - at least with me.

The shutter speeds I choose were a bit different than my usual. What happened with the subjects I pointed it at was different - especially after spending more than a few minutes with them. I started looking hard at what I was doing with it and something hit me - a few images I made just spoke to me in terms of that bear of a project that's been nagging at me for years. I will let you imagine what those things were. I decided to spend a small amount of time on this dry run. I let those images ferment for a while. I looked at them a week after I shot them. Then again and again. Oh my god, this is it. I know how to approach that project now.

So two sessions in and I have decided that I am now on the right track. So much so that I have decided to shoot the entire project on the X100 - end of story. I have never felt this way about any of the images I have made for this project before. Never - not even in the first week I made them. Am I going to show them now - nope. It may take another year to get the project to some sort of "done". It's not easy to pull off no matter what gear you use. It's actually very difficult to make work but I feel confident I can.

The truth is I could easily shoot this on a variety of cameras I own - not just the X100 but I won't, there's no driving need to do so. The X100 is completely ancillary to the project itself but it happened to be that particular camera that showed me the way. Keep that in mind when reading the camera doesn't matter for the three millionth time. Ummm yea - sometimes it does in more ways than frame rate, or IQ, or any other thing. What that really means something I have always known is that the approach and technique and a thousand other things that have nothing to do with the camera matter a whole lot more. Guess what - all of those less tangible things can be highly influenced by what particular camera you use to at the moment.

Food for thought with one very specific take away - when working on personal work it might serve you to have a small inventory of very very different cameras to play with. Even if you don't choose a particular one to make every single image in that project they can definitely inform your approach and change it significantly in ways that are not apparent unless you actually use them or mis-use them in some cases.


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