I reject the tyranny of precision
I've been on a strange ride for awhile now. My mind feels fragmented most of the time, jumping somewhat erratically between ideas and words and notes and chords—all in bits and pieces; as if I’m lost in a swirling, perpetual abstraction. Layers shifting.
When I was in Germany last fall , someone from Fujifilm Japan told me he’d felt a change in my photography...it wasn't necessarily a negative comment on his part but it threw me off a bit. The inner voice immediately kicked in, whispering that I was losing my way, that I’d been stripped of whatever magic I’d perhaps mistakenly been granted in the first place. I thought of spirits leaving Morrison at the end of that Oliver Stone movie; you know, right before The End starts playing. In fact, the words had resonated because I knew it already: the fragmentation had been extending to my visual world as well.
I've often written of the anxiety I feel about repeating myself, covering the same ground over and over again—so change, in whatever form, should be welcome, right? Yeah, it should. But at the risk of sounding incredibly vain, here’s a sad truth: once your work receives a certain amount of “recognition” (big quotation marks here), a brand new fear arises—the fear of breaking the spell, of evolving into a less compelling version of yourself, destroying whatever it was others found interesting. And we can scream at the top of our lungs that we don’t care, that we’re rebels and will do our own thang regardless of opinions...it’s all bullshit. We’re human and we do care. And when our job and livelihood depend on this “recognition”, on that certain “look” or ethos we’ve developed over time, whatever it may be...then the pressure to stay put becomes that much more intense. Don’t rock the boat.
So we build our cage, step inside and close the door.
Sometimes we lose the key.
A long, long time ago I owned a Polaroid camera. It was one of those 80s plastic behemoths, in red and black, with a cheap nylon strap. I still have it, sitting in a bookcase—because yes Ms Kondo, even if it isn’t anything to write home about, it does bring me a modicum of joy. Probably because it represents photography before it took over my entire life. An initial playground if you will.
Last year (right around this time actually) I stumbled on a series of Polaroid images from russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky—mostly stills he’d shot on some of his movie sets. I think I may have mentioned this once or twice. To call them hauntingly beautiful is an understatement: I could literally stare at these for hours and lose myself completely. And because G.A.S is G.A.S, real and impossible to deny; because the bars in the cage seemed thicker with every passing day, I ended up with not one but two instant film cameras to appease the gods of longing: Fujifilm’s Instax Neo 90 (which shoots mini format) and their Instax Wide 300 (which shoots...well, wide format). I truly love some of the pictures I shot with them, flaws and all—especially with the Instax Wide 300. First, there’s an unpredictability to those captures, forced by the format itself. But I love them in my hands, feeling the paper, the surface, the physicality of it. We have a few framed around the house, others hanging on a wire in my studio. Of course I soon bought a proper photo scanner as well: in my mind this is where they would ultimately transform into more than just pieces of paper in our home. Perhaps a series, a story on the blog or KAGE...at the very least something more than prints stacked in a decorative box. But the experiment quietly failed: no matter how much I tried—different scanners, settings—the transfer to the digital realm fell flat. The spirit of these small prints wouldn't translate on a screen. Not to my eye anyway. Not after watching them rise out of their cameras, alien newborn objects, the ghostly image fading in through my fingers. Scanning them was like stealing their soul, draining the breath from their lungs, killing the music...pick the awkward metaphor. So the enthusiasm faded and I stopped shooting instant film altogether. The longing however, was still there.
I recently began to reflect on the experience, trying to decipher the pull instant photography still has on me. And while the medium is definitely part of it—its tactile nature —what it really comes down to is the visual character of the images themselves: colour casts, softness, tonal compression and uneven exposures. That organic and disorderly analog look. But there’s also the overall imprecision of the process that’s present at every step and affects the very basic methodology. When you know the image will never be perfect, you don't attempt perfection. There’s a freedom to it. Especially when you can count on all these imperfections coming together as one, transforming the mundane into something slightly left of normalcy.
All the images on this page are an attempt at replication. They’re fakes, artificially using processing tricks to approach the personality of instant photography (1). But—at the risk of infuriating a few purists out there—I’ll be damned if they don’t excite me: I get to use any camera, any lens, with no limits whatsoever...and still get my kicks. Because I do—these images are stirring the same weird chemicals in my brain, despite the loss of physicality. And the knowledge that I can achieve this on anything I shoot, alters how I pre-visualize subjects.
I know there’s a heck of paradox in all of this, in the fact that the more gear I own, the more advanced the features, the less interested I am in achieving “flawlessness”. And maybe I’m headed the wrong way with these experiments, with all the slicing and dicing and fragmented pieces. Maybe I should stick to what worked in the past and polish the slick hardened steel of my cage.
But then where’s the fun in that?
1. You’ll notice I’ve used a square ratio. This was certainly not necessary and might even seem over the top, but there’s a reason behind it: by altering the original crop I’m forcing myself to recompose in post, often leading to a less perfect frame than what I shot in the field. I’m introducing randomness as a way of mimicking errors, parallax shifts etc, but also to basically mess with the results. And messing up is good. Messing up is...human ;)