I love the photography workshop I’m taking, but getting up at 5am every Saturday is killing me. This week we went to Leichhardt and while I got a photo or two that I was happy with, I wasn’t feeling it quite like I did last week. One thing I’ve noticed is that, sadly, people just seem more interesting with a cigarette. Whether it’s the expression they make, the way the smoke curls around their fingers, the fact that it gives them something to do with their hands – I don’t really know. It doesn’t make me want to smoke (why I ever smoked, I have no fricken clue other than I was an idiot). It just makes me want to take photos of smokers.
Next week is the last class and I’m both happy and sad. Happy that I’ll be able to sleep in (and hopefully stop taking three hour naps from 1–4 on Saturdays) and sad that I won’t be hanging out with a really nice group of people doing the thing I love most. After next week, it’ll be up to me to get out there and keep going with this.
I haven’t written at all about the Magnum Workshop I went to in Fremantle in March. I was meaning to, but then Lucy got sick and there was a ginormous issue at work and life just seemed to derail for awhile. For the first two weeks after I got back I didn’t pick up a camera, let alone go shoot anything. It’s not that the workshop wasn’t a fantastic experience – it was. It just that once I was back, it seemed that it took all of my energy just to get through a day.
I did work at the workshop that I never thought I could do. Not that it was great work, mind you. I don’t think it was. But it was something so, so different for me: a series of environmental portraits of customers at a barbershop in town. The project didn’t start off as portraits, but that’s where it went over the course of the week. And so I found myself interacting with my subjects, asking if it was OK to take their photos, getting closer to them than I’d ever gotten with a camera. It was the kind of work I’d always wanted to do but never been quite brave enough to do.
Yesterday I went to Marrickville as part of another workshop I’m taking and I amazed myself. I was stopping people and asking to take their pictures, asking them to stand here where there was a better background, interacting with them in ways I never had before. It was hard, each time, to take that first step, that first approach: “Excuse me…” But I fucking loved it. And the images I got were not like anything I’d ever done before. I’m not saying they were great or even good, but when I looked at them I knew it. This is what my work should be. And I think it was the Magnum workshop – the exposure to photographers like Trent Parke and Donovan Wylie – that let me make that breakthrough.
I have always wanted to take photos of people, but I have always been too afraid. I can remember when I was about 13, taking a picture of a hanging sign for the Westport Bank & Trust and thinking, “Wow. I don’t have to take pictures of people to do photography”. When I picked up photography again, around 2002, I focused on landscapes, on urban decay, on things. And while that’s obviously a valid choice of subject, to me it always felt like I was somehow lying to myself. Because that really wasn’t what I wanted to photograph at all.
Now I just have to keep on going.