Origin stories

I noticed something recently while reading a post on La Pura Vida. A photographer began by saying, “before I can talk about my photography it’s important to share my history,” and then proceeded to say something which I’ve read (with some variations) many times before:

I was given a small kodak instant camera as a kid. I used it for the single purpose of taking back memories to my parents when I was away from home, to share with them what I had lived. I couldn’t bare the idea of them being absent and not experiencing what I was seeing. I was obsessed with the – “Look what I saw!”

via Featured – Alex Cretey | la pura vida

I find a lot of interviews with photographers and essays by photographers start with something like this — a disclosure of childhood experiences that flowered into photographic obsession.

For photographers, origin stories often start at a very early age.

I don’t have anything of the sort — I had zero interest in photography as a kid, aside from occasionally envying any gadget that had so many controls on it. A good thing, too, since I could never have afforded film for a camera back then. I was — and remained until quite recently — a fundamentally word-based person, with virtually no interest in art of any kid, just the written and the spoken word.

I got my first camera for an entirely pedestrian purpose (I wanted to be able to photograph my knitting). Inevitably, like every other asshole with a camera, I started using it to make flower macros and shit, too, just because I could. Some of that stuff is probably still lingering in my flickr account.

But I think the shift toward thinking of the camera as something more came when I realized that the camera could see things more clearly than I could.

This was not a metaphysical realization, mind you — my eyesight had become pretty bad for distant subjects, and because I don’t drive, it was a long time before I was forced to do something about it and actually get glasses. This was around the same time I started using the camera out in the world, but there was still a window of a few weeks or months in which my clearest view of the world was on the back of a crappy LCD.

When I would see something that — despite its fuzziness — I thought might be interesting, I would photograph it simply for the purpose of being able to inspect the details I could not otherwise perceive.

At that point, the camera was acting for me as a kind of mild prosthetic. It was an extension of my eyes, a tool for seeing. Since then, while I’ve gone much deeper into the medium, I don’t think I’ve strayed too far from that initial, banal relationship with cameras; I still basically see the practice of photography as an act of perception, although as time passes (and I got glasses), that has been more and more in the phenomenological sense and less and less in the optical sense.

This probably has a lot to do with my distrust of “creative” photography and many flavors of conceptually-oriented photography…

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