It's all so unreal. We're moving along the Grand Canal and it's like floating through a movie set, with extras all standing by, waiting for their cue. I'm expecting the ghost in the machine, a reveal of some sort... A hint that all of this is cardboard and make-believe. Between the darkness and the incessant motion I'm pushing the camera to its limits — but I don't care.
Somewhere there's the clicking sound of a projector,
the smell of celluloid in the air.
Shot with the X100S
I had a very nice video chat earlier this week with Seshu of Tiffinbox. It’s not online yet but I’ll let you know when it is. We talked quite a bit about Kage Collective but also about personal motivation, approach etc. At some point though, he asked me a question that caught me off guard: Do you consider yourself an artist?
I seem to remember a lot of rambling and hesitations. Long after the interview was over the question stayed with me, replaying in my mind with all kinds of different responses on my part.
Why did I hesitate? Why was it so hard to answer even though I did in the end concede that yes, I do think of myself as an artist? Truthfully: I was scared of sounding like a total douche. I don’t believe in hiding my true feelings but in this case… My brain was suddenly flipping through 30 possible answers, for fear of sounding somehow… Pretentious. This is probably a very North American reflex, this stygma that comes from the notion that calling yourself an artist implies considering yourself above the fold, beyond the common rabble, feet hovering a couple of inches above a pedestal.
Look here: The Artist.
It’s not how I see it at all. For me it’s just purely descriptive: if you spend most of your time working within an artistic framework — whatever it is — then you’re an artist. That’s it. It doesn’t mean you’re a GOOD artist, it doesn’t annoint you with super powers or any sort of special statute. It certainly doesn’t make you better than anyone else; it’s simply an occupation, for better or worse, with its advantages and disadvantages.
I’ve spent my entire life working in various creative fields — music, television, design, photography. In all cases I’ve been required to make something out of nothing based on an idea, to illustrate a concept or provide emotion, either visually or sonically. I’ve lost sleep over it, I’ve felt elation, I’ve felt like crap. I’ve called my own phone to record ideas for fear of losing them. There’s nothing exceptional about this; I’m sure lawyers and engineers and CEOs and school teachers get these moments as well. It just so happens that in my case, it’s always been about what society considers an artistic pursuit. I’m not going to shy away or hide behind the term crafstman, as though this is somehow nobler because it implies workmanship and skill. It’s all skills: changing a pipe, writing a poem, building a house or illustrating a children’s book. The term artist shouldn’t negate the idea of work. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I get that there’s an entire art world out there based on nothing but speculation and financial transactions whose only goal is to inflate values for higher gains. It exists. But crap exists everywhere, in every domain.
Elitism? Well, unless you’re extremely lucky, chances are you’ll be spending most of your life three or four universes away from that 1%. Champagne and caviar? Uh… Nope. Perhaps never. Which doesn’t matter because that’s not the endgame and it shouldn’t be. Being an artist is simply about creating artistic stuff. No capital A, no pedestal.
So allow me to answer this question again, for the sake of clarity:
Seshu: “Do you consider yourself an artist?”
Me: “Well, yes. But there’s nothing fancy about that. It’s just what I do.”
Today I'm taking a break from my This European Diary series so I can talk to you guys directly for a change — that is, without the filter of a story between us. It's been an odd couple of weeks since our return from Italy and I have to admit I've been struggling a little; as in a rather unexpected creative slump. I guess a crash was inevitable after such an overdose of visuals that basically keeps you ON, 24/7. It's also the season: the ever-darkening mornings, the colour slowly whisked away with every gust of wind through the trees. This time of year, our entire world seems to be calling us to a long slumber.
When I feel this way I know I have to step back and breathe. Pick up the guitar and scream in a mic for a few hours. Anything to throw my mind elsewhere really. I also know it's helpful just to do things a bit differently — there's nothing worse than an old routine in these cases. It'll just drag you down even more. So this weekend I left the house with a setup I hadn't used on its own in awhile: the X-Pro1 and 35mm f/1.4. And when I found myself walking through those same woods I visit time and time again, I looked at the camera's Q Menu and on a whim decided to create a custom setup on the spot: Velvia, Color -2, Shadows +2, Sharpness +1, everything else standard. To be clear, I never use Velvia. I never use it because I find it too saturated, but also because it blocks the shadows quicker than any of the other film simulations... And here I was pushing those shadows even more. Straight JPEG too, no safety net. I also set the white balance to Cloudy, knowing I'd be adding quite a bit of orange to the mix.
You know what? I got excited. The viewfinder, set to EVF, was suddenly displaying this intense, glowing and magical world, two or three steps away from reality. So I walked around, my hands slowly getting stiffer and stiffer from the cold. When I came back inside Cynthia was busy stitching some curtains for the girls on her mom's old sewing machine. Window light from an overcast sky, the small incandescent bulb just above the needle... I looked into the camera and it was all perfect. So I spent a few minutes hovering while making conversation, watching her work. These were the last images I shot that weekend.
I sat at the computer a day later, waiting on these to import and half-expecting all of it to be a black over-saturated mess... But damn, I like 'em. I also didn't do anything other than apply a very soft curve in post — no tweaking of exposure/contrast, no local adjustments, no clarity either positive or negative. Nothing. Didn't feel I needed to.
Is this a preset I can use every day in every single situation? Of course not. But I love that I can set these parameters in-camera, shoot accordingly (by using both the EVF and histogram) and have next to nothing to do in post. And I'd love to be able to do even more, get even finer control given how powerful these small machines are today.
Btw: what a joy it was to use this camera/lens combo as a main kit again. Yes, the 35mm AF is a bit slower at times and I've been spoiled by the X-T1 viewfinder and manual controls but.. It's still such a great setup. As for the orange: Halloween's coming up right? Orange and black feels like a good fit ;)