My interest in photography has always been, in a sense, academic.
In truth, I am not really a practical guy and the technical aspect of taking a picture and developing a print never really appealed to me. Whereas the stimulation and aesthetic pleasure of vicariously enjoying someone else’s carefully crafted simulacra was immensely, is immensely pleasing.
I like to think of myself as a student of the past, images haunt me, as they do you, staring out unknowingly from printed pages across time, space and culture. Often, even when the image is gloriously evocative, one occasionally wishes these pictures could speak. I wrote poor, well not hopelessly poor but very average poems about ‘celluloid stares’ and ‘the dead’, while at university, trying to imagine what they might say. Certainly, I never did as well as Peter Kocan, whose poem, Photograph, memorably evokes that almost national image of “brief, sliding minutes at the wharf” becoming 60 years since the soldier/brother/son/husband in Nanna’s loungeroom fades from all memory.
English teaching gave me a working knowledge of advertising tricks, symbolism and a range of visual literacy frameworks for analysing the final product of someone else’s, usually digital, manipulations. Of course, as a citizen-consumer living in a culture saturated with images, my experiences of the end results of photography are sometimes conscious, and certainly extensive. Now that I have two young daughters, one is even more aware of just how saturated with images our lives have become. Other people’s images. Created by them. Not me.
That is starting to change.
As I said, until last year, my interest in photography had always been academic. One of my personal and professional goals in the last year of the ‘noughties’ was, and still is, to be more of a ‘designer’ and a ‘creator’. Composing, using tools to formulate ‘original’ images – rather than re-using or ‘appropriating’ or plain stealing, employing ‘right-click copy’, that totally expedient mode so many of us use in online settings – is increasingly important to me.
Capturing my own images, with a DSLR camera, seemed like a good first step into the world of photography that would give me my own fodder for Adobe Photoshop, the outrageously expensive software made available to me, for next to nothing at home, by my employer. The only problem, I had no clue what camera to buy and was virtually clueless about the metalanguage, jargon and discourse of photography.
I needed to learn and on reflection, find it interesting to think back on the last 12 months of experiences. Teaching myself about photography, in the digital realm, was not just about this subject but how learning works in our hyper-connected culture. Certainly, if I wanted to be a ‘shooter’ back in the 90s, my learning trajectory would have curved very differently.
Whirlpool has an amazing Australian online forum that has proven invaluable, especially with the purchase of equipment. The photography forum, specifically the DSLR section, has allowed me to connect with those who have direct experience of the gear I didn’t know I needed, if that makes sense. Like with twitter, one doesn’t connect with a static page of information but with real people, all who share their expertise, mistakes and enthusiasms. In this case, the debates and conversation proved invaluable and led to me buying a Nikon D90.
It was nerve-wracking attaching my kits lenses (could not afford the really magnificent lenses) for the first time but joining the Nikonians community and reading up eased my paranoia about dust and dropping them, well almost.
I did read plenty of glossy, pricey magazines too but luckily these were supplemented with a wealth of back issues available from the local library. These helped with digestible articles for beginners on every aspect of photography. The glossary sections and tutorials for novices were particularly useful.
Lynda.com is a great video tutorial resource which led me to realise that mastering Adobe Bridge was more important than Photoshop, for the budding photographer needing to organise and tag his collections.
Flickr really transformed my experience from a reasonably solitary pursuit into a public one, with a sense of community and more importantly, for my photography, feedback from other enthusiasts. Twitter complemented brilliantly well of course.
I began to realise, from Flickr groups found, that macro photography held a particular fascination and I invested in kenko extension tubes, a tripod, focusing rail and most importantly, my best lens, the 105mm Micro-Nikkor. Suddenly spider experts were identifying what was in my backyard and tagging my photos. Advice and praise was generously given. My photos had an audience and started to get better.
Learning has to be more than the manual. Learning is social and something to enjoy with your family. My daughters, aged 3 and 6, are my companions and their enthusiasm for ‘our’ photos is a joy. I suspect they have a capitalist streak too, as Lucy had the idea I paid $1 for each spider or insect, they found, that could be photographed. They listened to me explain, on our rambles, what I was trying to do and joined in enthusiastically as they started to understand. ‘Wrong lens, Dad?’ said Sarah when I cussed one day. Listening to them talk about ‘the light’ and say, ‘stop Dad, check this out, what a magical, golden glow’ almost made me cry one day.
Recently, a professional photographer had to take my picture, with my family, for a newspaper article and we got chatting. ‘Are you a shooter?’ she asked (obviously impressed with my command of the lingo).
Not really, I said, I’m still learning.